Is Sudan taking cues from Syria’s chemical weapons playbook? For years, the Assad government has gassed its own people with impunity. Although dozens of United Nations and other reports have confirmed these atrocities in Syria, the UN Security Council has not held anyone to account.
Now we have reason to fear that other notorious human rights abusers may see international inaction on Syria as a green light to use chemical weapons themselves. Amnesty International’s disturbing new report about Darfur describes children covered in blisters and lesions or vomiting blood after inhaling poison gas. It says Sudanese government forces appear to have used chemical weapons in Darfur at least 30 times this year. Sudan has been a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention banning the use of these weapons since 1999. The body responsible for tracking compliance with this treaty, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), says it will look into the allegations.
In Darfur, hundreds of thousands have died since Sudanese government and rebel forces went to war in 2003, with government ground forces and airstrikes attacking civilians indiscriminately. Human Rights Watch has not independently confirmed Amnesty International’s Darfur findings, but the report suggests that chemical attacks there are becoming commonplace.
In Syria, there have been dozens of alleged chemical attacks killing and injuring civilians. In August 2013, hundreds of people died in a sarin gas attack in Ghouta. Human Rights Watch determined that government forces were likely responsible for that atrocity, the worst chemical attack since Saddam Hussein’s Iraq gassed Kurds in 1988. A UN-OPCW investigation confirmed in August that both the government and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, have used chemical weapons in Syria.
In September 2013, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2118, saying it would impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – such as sanctions or a referral to the International Criminal Court – if there was another chemical attack in Syria.
The attacks never stopped. We have confirmed that the Syrian government and ISIS have carried out numerous chemical attacks since the resolution, as recently as September 6. But the Security Council has failed to act, largely due to Russia’s opposition.
If the OPCW confirms the use of poison gas in Darfur, it may be that Sudan’s leaders learned a lesson from Syria – if you’ve got chemical weapons, use them; the international community will let you get away with murder.
UN sanctions would make them think twice.