HRW slams indiscriminate Sudan border bombing
Author: Niamh Fleming-Farrell
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

Beirut – MABAN, South Sudan: Refugees driven from their homes by "indiscriminate bombing" in both Blue Nile and South Kordofan by the Sudan Armed Forces continue to pour into the Batil refugee camp in Upper Nile, South Sudan, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday. A mere 40 kilometers from the border with Sudan's Blue Nile state, Batil, one of four camps in Maban County. has a population of almost 40,000 and will soon be full.

Doro, the largest camp in Maban County, has already stopped receiving refugees. The other camps in the area, Jamam and Jendrasa, are smaller but are also nearing capacity. However, humanitarian workers in the area say that when this happens further camps will be built to accommodate new arrivals.

So far the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has registered 112,379 refugees in Upper Nile. A further 68,000 have fled from South Kordofan to Yida camp in South Sudan. Still more are displaced inside Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

The war between the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army-North and Sudan in the border states has to date affected or displaced an estimated 900,000 people, Human Rights Watch says.

Working at a nutrition distribution project in Batil, Abdullah says he and his family left Blue Nile a year ago "due to the war."

"The government of North Sudan, they are bombing every location where the people are settling. That is why all the people in Blue Nile ran away from their houses," the 29-year-old explains.

All the people from Abdullah's hometown fled. "There are no civilians remaining, because of the bombing there."

Human Rights Watch's new report "Under Siege" is full of stories like Abdullah's. Take, for example, Tahani Nurin, now a resident of Doro refugee camp. The mother of seven, tired of daily bomb attacks around her home in Sukum, Blue Nile, was walking toward South Sudan with a group of 25 civilians when tragedy struck.

A barrel bomb – a crude but brutal improvised device packed with nails and other jagged pieces of metal that become lethal projectiles upon impact – discharged from a cargo plane killed her 17-year-old daughter Fatallah. It also took the lives of two others, one a 12-year-old child, the report says.

Nurin's testimony is among the almost 200 collected by Human Rights Watch between August 2011 and October 2012.

In its report, HRW condemns Sudan's indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations in the two states.

"We are releasing the report now because the situation is getting worse," Jehanne Henry, co-author of HRW's report and senior researcher in the group's Africa division tells The Daily Star on the eve of its release.

"At the end of the rainy season and beginning of the dry season [which started in late October] the bombing and fighting increases and associated human rights violations. We want to send a warning to all the actors involved in Sudan that they need to increase their pressure on the parties to the conflict to bring the violations to an end – especially the indiscriminate bombing and the deliberate aid blockade," Henry adds.

Conflict broke out between the SPLA and the Sudan Armed Forces in South Kordofan in June 2011 – a month before South Sudan seceded from Khartoum – when the state's incumbent governor, Ahmad Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, earned a narrow re-election. It spread to Blue Nile in September. Fighting continues between the SPLA-N, the successor of the SPLA in the border states, and Khartoum's forces.

HRW's report documents SAF use of unguided and improvised bombs, cluster bombs, shells, rockets and automated weapons against civilians, and states that the evidence suggests "a deliberate strategy of the Sudan government to treat all populations in rebel held areas as enemies and legitimate targets, without distinguishing between civilian and combatant."

Indeed, the organization reports, "in all areas Human Rights Watch visited in Sudan including IDP camps, residents had dug foxholes for shelter in the event of a bomb attack."

It may be a different region in a different decade, but much of the evidence contained in the report calls to mind tactics deployed by the Sudanese army during its civil war in the '80s and '90s and in Darfur in the 2000s.

"The report documents extremely serious violations over the past 18 months. The most worrying aspect is that they are continuing," Henry says.

On the basis of five separate fact-finding missions to Sudan and South Sudan in August 2011, April 2012, and October 2012, HRW's research identifies indiscriminate aerial bombardment as well as ground attacks, violence against women, arbitrary detentions, house burnings and lootings by Sudan's army and allied militia as factors driving civilians from the region.

The report also levels that the government of Sudan has imposed a "de facto blockade" on humanitarian assistance in areas under rebel control.

"Those who live in the rebel-controlled parts of the states are effectively cut off from food, aid and supplies because Sudan has closed roads and restricted movement, and prevented international aid groups from providing services in those areas," Henry says.

However, HRW acknowledges that it was unable to access areas in government-controlled areas – a limitation that also precluded its ability to verify reports that SPLA-N too has conducted indiscriminate shelling.

Moreover, the rights organization describes the international response to the crisis as "muted," claiming that it was eclipsed by the resumption of conflict between Sudan and South Sudan in April 2012.

Although the African Union and United Nations agreed modalities for aid delivery with the parties to the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in August, the report says the agreement remains unimplemented.

"There does not appear to be a solution to this conflict on the horizon not until the two parties negotiate," Henry says. "As a human rights organization, our focus is on ending the violations. So we don't call for negotiations, rather, we call for the perpetrators to stop perpetrating human rights abuses."

Back at his place of work in the sprawling refugee camp of Batil where between 800-1,000 pregnant or nursing women and under-5 children present for supplementary feeding daily, Abdullah says that if there is peace he and his family will return to Blue Nile.

But, he says, "if there is no peace, we will stay here as refugees."

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