By: Paul Ndiho
Sudan’s Darfur region continues to be an extremely dangerous place. Amnesty International says it has “credible evidence” that the Sudanese government used chemical weapons against civilians there as recent as September. The escalation of violence by the Sudanese government threatens to deepen an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Sudan’s Darfur region is again in the international headlines because the regime in Khartoum is desperate to end one of three active rebellions in the country. Conflicts that have caused a major humanitarian crisis, and according to United Nations estimates, caused more than 300,000 deaths. The UN also says that 2.7 million people are displaced as a result of the conflict.
The Washington DC-based NGO, Darfur Women Action Group, founded in 2009, by a Darfuri genocide survivor, is trying to make a difference by amplifying the voices and empowering the affected communities.
In September, Amnesty International, accused the Sudanese government of carrying out at least 30 chemical weapons attacks in Darfur since the beginning of this year.
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of crisis research, estimated that up to 250 people might have died as a result of exposure to the chemical weapons agents.
“During these attacks, hundreds of civilians have been shot at, tens of thousands have been displaced, and in one of the most sickening twists in the conflict in Darfur is we have discovered credible evidence that the Sudanese government has been using chemical weapons on the civilian population.”
Hassan says her team used satellite imagery, conducted more than 200 interviews and obtained expert analysis of images showing injuries.
“We gave all of the evidence that Amnesty International collected to two independent experts,” Hassan explained, “who viewed the evidence, and said that there is credible evidence that there has been the use of some chemical agent and in particular, there is a high possibility of the use of a vesicant, or a blistering agent such as lewisite, or sulfur mustard gas.”
The Sudanese government has refuted these claims made by displaced persons in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur, that they suffered chemical exposure at the hands of the government. A joint African Union-United Nations force, known as UNAMID, has been stationed in Darfur since 2007. Security remains fragile in Darfur, where mainly non-Arab tribes have been fighting the Arab-led government in Khartoum, and the government is struggling to control rural areas.
Meanwhile, Sudan’s national dialogue conference, held last week, approved a final document that will act as the base for the country’s permanent constitution aimed at ending the conflicts. Representatives of the political parties, armed groups, and civil society organizations signed the document before it was handed to the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.
“I declare here that we will strictly follow this document and exert zero tolerance over the acts that damage our political development.”
However, the main political parties and Darfur armed groups, including SPLM/Northern refused to participate in the conference. The International Criminal Court issued two arrest warrants against President Al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur. However, he continues to travel freely in Africa, across Arab countries, and Asia, defying the ICC arrest warrants.