'War crimes' committed in Sudan's Southern Kordofan - UN

A report released yesterday (15 August) by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says that, if substantiated, violations of international criminal law and international humanitarian law which are alleged to have taken place in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State in June “could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.”

On 5 June 2011, violence broke out in Southern Kordofan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). In the ensuing days, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Component of the United Nations Mission to Sudan (UNMIS Human Rights) received reports of serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of civilian homes and destruction of property. (See here for a background to the conflict in Southern Kordofan.)

The 12-page report, covering the period 5-30 June 2011, describes a wide range of alleged violations of international law in the town of Kadugli, as well as in the surrounding Nuba mountains. Reported violations included “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of civilian homes and destruction of property,” as well as massive displacement.

The report also describes aerial bombardments on civilian areas in Kadugli and elsewhere in Southern Kordofan which, it says, have resulted in “significant loss of life.”

Both the SAF and the SPLA-N are reported to have laid anti-personnel mines in Kadugli town, the report says.

It also describes widespread looting by elements of the Popular Defence Force (a militia allied with the SAF), alleged attacks on churches, the burning of houses in Nuba villages, interference with medical and humanitarian assistance and allegations of the existence of several mass graves in Kadugli itself and in a number of villages in the region.

However, neither the existence of the mass graves nor other reports suggesting possible use of chemical weapons have been fully verified.

Most, but not all, of the violations and allegations detailed in the report are attributed to the SAF, the Central Reserve Police or their militia allies.

According to figures from the Sudan Red Crescent Society (SRCS), the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) and UN agencies in Kadugli, at least 73,000 people were initially displaced throughout central and eastern localities of Southern Kordofan as a result of the fighting and the aerial bombardments. Some of these people have now returned to their homes.

“This is a preliminary report produced under very challenging circumstances and with very limited access to affected areas,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose office produced the report jointly with the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS). “However what it suggests has been happening in Southern Kordofan is so serious that it is essential there is an independent, thorough and objective inquiry with the aim of holding perpetrators to account.”

Pillay expressed concern about continuing violence in the six weeks since the end of the period covered by the report, and noted some of its key recommendations concerning access.

“It is vital that unhindered access is granted to human rights monitors to conduct investigations into allegations of continuing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and to humanitarian actors trying to bring relief to the affected populations whose access has also been severely restricted by both sides,” she said.

The report describes a number of specific individual detentions and disappearances – including some women and children – as well as “a series of extrajudicial killings targeted at people who were affiliated with the SPLA-N and SPLM, most of whom allegedly were from the Nuba communities.” One such victim was reportedly shot “in full public view” at the Kadugli Police Hospital, where he had gone to look for his three missing children. Another SPLM member, who was working as a contractor for UNMIS, “was pulled out of a vehicle by SAF in front of the UNMIS Kadugli Sector IV compound in the presence of several witnesses. Later he was discovered dead.”

“Throughout the conflict in Southern Kordofan, the SAF, PDF and the Central Reserve Police Forces have treated UNMIS with disregard of its status as a UN body,” the report says. In addition to the killing of the UNMIS contractor, the report notes a long list of attacks and harassment of UN staff – especially those of Nuban descent – including one man who was shot in the legs, and a string of severe beatings, cruel and degrading treatment, threats of execution, arrests and detention. On several occasions, bombs were also dropped near UNMIS positions.

“These flagrant and repeated violations of international conventions as well as specific agreements with the Government of Sudan concerning the privileges and immunities under which the UN operates are an extremely serious matter which cannot be left unresolved or unpunished,” Pillay said. “I urge the Government of Sudan to immediately release any UN staff who are still in custody, as well as all other detainees who have not committed any crime.”


 Image top: UN Photo/Paul Banks.