Civilian Devastation

Abuses by All Parties in the War in Southern Sudan

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Since 1983, the civil war in southern Sudan has claimed the lives of some 1.3 million civilians as a result of targeted killings, indiscriminate fire, or starvation and disease. Both government and rebel forces are culpable as they wage war in total disregard for the welfare of civilians, violating almost every rule of war applicable in an internal armed conflict. Government forces have engaged in indiscriminate aerial bombardments, scorched earth tactics, torture, disappearance and summary executions. The two factions of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army have engaged in indiscriminate attacks, destruction of property, looting, and long-term sieges that starve civilians. The cumulative effect has been to turn Sudan’s southern region into a permanent emergency situation where war, flood, drought, and disease have torn apart ordinary survival strategies and made millions dependent in whole or in part on international assistance. International relief efforts were expanded in 1993 as the Sudanese government — alarmed not by the suffering of its own people but by the United Nations peace-keeping action in neighboring Somalia — broadened access to relief organizations for the first time. As a result of U.N. and nongovernmental organizations’ efforts, child malnutrition and disease declined through vaccination, food, and non-food distribution. Despite these and other successes in 1993, the excess mortality rate numbered 220,000 people and 700,000 others were still refugees in their own country, over 100,000 of them displaced by ongoing government attacks in the first few months of 1994 as the government took back rebel territory. Short of an end to the war, only the elevation of respect for human rights and humanitarian law by all parties will prevent the extinction of millions more.
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