Unlike Syria, No 'Red Lines' For Chemical Attacks In Darfur

11/10/2016 17:07
Valery Sharifulin via Getty Images

Sudan's absolute impunity for ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the western region of Darfur has entered its thirteenth year. This year, the regime escalated its slaughter of civilians to the point of apparently gassing its own people.

A new report from Amnesty International accuses the Sudanese government of using chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur. The well-researched accounts indicate that Sudan may have conducted at least 30 chemical attacks in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January 2016.

Between 200 and 250 people, mostly children, may have died as a result of exposure to the chemical weapons agents, Amnesty concluded. Two independent chemical weapons experts, solicited by Amnesty, found that the evidence strongly suggested exposure to vesicants or blister agents.

This is not the first such report. In 2000 Médecins Sans Frontières issued a report entitled 'Living under aerial bombardments'. The report noted that "evidence has been found and serious allegations have been made that weapons of internationally prohibited nature are regularly employed against the civilian population such as cluster bombs and bombs with 'chemical contents.'"

Curiously, allegations of chemical attacks by Sudanese government, in South Sudan, Darfur or Nuba mountains, have consistently been overlooked by the United Nations, its member states or any other intergovernmental organisation.

This was my own experience too. Nearly two months into serving in the post of spokesperson for the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), I noticed some disturbing reports by the Netherlands-based Radio Dabanga; an independent news network that provides a continuous stream of authoritative reports on Darfur. Between October and December 2012, the radio reported that following indiscriminate bombing of civilians in East Jebel Marra, several victims suffered diarrhea and eye problems, developed blistering and rashes on skin and vomited blood to death.

The mission leadership dismissed these reports, just as any claim from Radio Dabanga, as a mouthpiece for Sudanese rebels. But in private, rumors were afloat in UNAMID that the Sudanese government was using chemical weapons in its bombing campaign in Jebel Marra.

When I resigned and blew the whistle on the UN cover-up of atrocities in Darfur, I refrained from publicising these rumors due to the lack of internal reports and hard evidence. UNAMID was neither willing nor capable of investigating Khartoum bombings, especially in notorious no-go areas such as Jebel Marra.

The mission kept quiet about these reports just as it covered up the death, destruction and terror campaigns caused by Sudan's Antonov bombers and MiGs deliberately targeting non-Arab civilians across Darfur.

As a result, Khartoum's targeting of civilians and its use of prohibited weapons remained alleged, somewhat documented, but never duly investigated. The international community chose to grant the Sudanese regime a free pass on mass murder, even when one of the world's most respected NGOs, Human Rights Watch, reported last year that "Sudan dropped cluster bombs on civilian areas of Southern Kordofan's Nuba Mountains in February and March 2015."

Clearly, unlike Syria, there are no 'red lines' for chemical or any other attacks in Darfur. But in common with Syria, Russia and China continue to make sure that the regime escapes any international inquiry, including into allegations of violation of the UN's arms embargo, deliberate bombing of civilians, repeated use of prohibited weapons in Darfur and Nuba Mountains, illegal arms trafficking and continued sponsoring of terror.

Worst, it seems the US government is now praising Sudan's role in providing counter-terrorism intelligence, and the UK government and other EU Member States are looking to work with the regime to stem migration from the Horn of Africa under an initiative named the Khartoum Process.

Clearly the new Amnesty International report should give them pause for thought. Their efforts would be better placed in pushing for a long overdue independent Commission of Inquiry on the alleged use of prohibited weapons in Sudan.

The forgotten victims in the region of Darfur deserve this at the very least.

Aicha Elbasri, former spokesperson for the African Union and UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur and the winner of the 2015 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling.