“They Bombed Everything that Moved”
Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan and South Sudan, 1999 – 2012
(substantial report and data updates, as of June 5, 2012)
Research and Analysis by Eric Reeves
Research and Editing by Madeline Zehnder, Smith College
June 12, 2012
This is the fourth update to my original May 6, 2011 report and Excel data spreadsheet; collectively, the reports and data attempt to render as completely as possible all confirmed aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians working in what is now Sudan and South Sudan. The attacks recorded here are all the responsibility of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum, which this month marks its 23rd year in power following the June 30, 1989 military coup.
The motivation for this schematic history and archival project continues to be the intolerable singularity of Khartoum’s sustained, deliberate, and unconstrained aerial attacks on Sudanese civilians and relief workers over many years—this along with the conviction that the profound anonymity of nearly all victims of these attacks is morally unacceptable: they deserve some reckoning, some accounting, some identifiable part in this unspeakably grim history of incidents that together constitute crimes against humanity.
As I argue, and believe the facts amply demonstrate, such a strategy—obscenely destructive in its consequences—has no historical precedent anywhere in the world.
I remain convinced as well that it would be presumptuous to dedicate such a document to so many thousands of victims; it must simply stand in memoriam.
I have attempted to put in bold the most important proper names, dates, and geographical locations on first appearance in a given section within this report. The spreadsheet to which the update refers includes all confirmed aerial attacks from the original report and four subsequent updates. Research to date indicates that there have been 1,797 confirmed aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians by military forces of the current regime. These are, of course, only a small percentage of attacks that have actually occurred, but represent all that the data and sources will permit by way of confirmation. The full report—including photographs, links, original formatting, and Excel data spreadsheet—are all available at www.sudanbombing.org.
June 5, 2012
I. Aerial attacks continue undiminished
Since the initial release of this report and data spreadsheet over a year ago (May 6, 2011), the Sudan Armed Forces have continued their aerial onslaught against civilians in Darfur and various border regions of northern Sudan at the direction of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum. These brutal atrocity crimes have now spread from South Kordofan and Blue Nile to aerial attacks against the independent Republic of South Sudan; there they extend from Upper Nile State in the east to Western Bahr el-Ghazal in the far west. In Unity State SAF attacks have included repeated bombing of the major town of Bentiu, the state capital, as well as numerous other towns, villages, and refugee camps. There have been significant civilian casualties, an inevitable consequence of using inaccurate Antonov “bombers” (crudely retrofitted Russian cargo planes) to carry out the vast majority of these attacks.
The most notorious and well reported of recent attacks on South Sudan was the November 10, 2011 bombing of Yida refugee camp (Unity State), home at the time to approximately 23,000 civilians who had fled the Nuba Mountains. One bomb landed just outside a rudimentary schooling area where shortly before the attack about 200 children had been present. Two days earlier, in Upper Nile, the remote area of Guffa (north of Bunj in the Mabaan region) was bombed; the only medical aid organization in the region evacuated its personnel from nearby Doro. The November 8 bombing of Guffa reportedly killed 7 people and wounded many others. John Ashworth, a long-time and deeply informed Sudan observer, with numerous contacts in the Sudanese church community, reported that one source in the area described the bombing of Guffa as “serious and deliberate,” and also reports that, “many Southern Sudanese have been wounded as a result of the bombing” (email received November 10, 2011).
The regime in Khartoum refuses to acknowledge responsibility for any of these attacks, and has gone so far as to issue denials through its permanent representative at the United Nations. Not only were the Yida and Guffa attacks confirmed by humanitarian workers and the UN, but journalists for both the BBC and Reuters were actually present at the time of the attack on Yida. Khartoum’s mindlessly automatic denials simply have no credibility.
In Darfur the ethnically non-Arab populations have endured for almost a decade a similarly relentless air campaign. Although the campaign waxes and wanes in intensity as military and other circumstances dictate, a number of recent attacks in all three Darfur states are recorded in this update—every one of them a violation of international law and the various iterations of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005; see below).
In aggregate, Khartoum’s 1,797 confirmed, deliberate aerial attacks on its own civilians and international aid workers—recorded in detail by many sources over more than a decade—constitute crimes against humanity. The regime’s systematic, deliberate, and ongoing assaults on its own people are unrivaled, Syria and Libya notwithstanding. This is an historically unprecedented campaign of human destruction by means of military aircraft, comprising astonishingly cruel and indiscriminate acts of killing, maiming, and displacing Sudanese (and now South Sudanese) citizens. Equally astonishing, at least morally, is that these attacks occur without meaningful rebuke or threat from the international community.
No clear explanation of this failure to respond has been offered by those who support an “international responsibility to protect” such endangered civilians—nothing beyond the claim that political action at the United Nations Security Council is impracticable. But of course as these various proponents of “R2P” surely knew in September 2005 when the doctrine was unanimously approved by the UN General Assembly—and later by the Security Council itself—it offered no means of surmounting the political obstacles clearly represented by Permanent Members of the Security Council Russia and China. These obstacles are again conspicuously on display in their response to Syria’s bloodbath and to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
As this and previous reports on aerial attacks against civilians and humanitarians make clear, the consequences of unconstrained assaults on vulnerable populations—typically targeted on the basis of ethnicity—are immense. Those fleeing the bombing attacks in Blue Nile and South Kordofan are now arriving in Upper Nile and Unity State at a rate of 4,000 per day, according to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (BBC, June 2, 2012). Tens of thousands of others are on their way, often badly weakened, malnourished, exhausted, and traumatized. The BBC reports that “Fighting is vicious [in Blue Nile], with refugees describing how they were bombed from the air, with markets being a particular target.” Many are too weak or too young or too badly injured to make the arduous trek, and they will die. The refugee flow from the Nuba Mountains is not as great as from Blue Nile, but it is also rapidly increasing. The population of Yida refugee camp has grown to more than 40,000 and new arrivals are ceaseless, as increasingly desperate people flee aerial bombardment and starvation.
II. Continuing denial of access to international humanitarian organizations
Starvation looms for many hundreds of thousands of human beings because there is no international relief access to Blue Nile or South Kordofan. Khartoum has for almost a year denied all such access, fearing “another Darfur,” in the words of one senior NIF/NCP official. Beyond this denial of relief assistance, on June 1, 2012 Khartoum expelled a number of international relief organizations from eastern Sudan, one of the most food insecure and least visible regions in Sudan (as the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (UK) reported on June 7, 2011, the number of international organizations was in fact seven*):
“Sudan is expelling four* foreign aid groups from its restive eastern region, government and aid officials said on Friday, the latest restrictions on aid agencies in the violence-marred African country. A senior official in Khartoum said the four groups had been asked to stop all projects in the underdeveloped east, one of Sudan’s poorest regions …. ‘They didn’t implement the projects we asked them to do,’ the official with the Humanitarian Affairs Commission told Reuters, declining to elaborate. He said the four included aid groups Goal of Ireland and the Swedish chapter of Save the Children.” (Reuters [Khartoum], June 1, 2012)
Sudan Tribune reports that the Beja Congress, the oldest political party in eastern Sudan, “has warned that the government’s decision to suspend activities of seven* foreign aid groups is rendering the already impoverished region on ‘the verge of famine’” (June 3, 2012) (all emphases in quotations have been added).
The assault on humanitarian relief throughout Sudan and South Sudan has continued, including in Darfur; on May 22, 2012 MSF announced:
“As a result of increasing restrictions imposed by Sudanese authorities, the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been forced to suspend most of its medical activities in the conflict area of Jebel Si, in Sudan’s North Darfur State. MSF is the sole health provider in the region. ‘With the reduction of our activities in Jebel Si, more than 100,000 people in the region are left entirely without healthcare,’ says Alberto Cristina, MSF’s operational manager for Sudan.
In March 2009 Khartoum expelled from Darfur thirteen of the world’s finest humantarian organizations, including two MSF national sections, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam/UK, and Save the Children/US, along with eight others. In 2011 Khartoum expelled Médecins du Monde, the only medical relief organization providing assistance in the populous and deeply endangered Jebel Marra region of central Darfur. Many other organizations have faced intolerable abuse, obstruction, harassment, and violence at the hands of the regime and have withdrawn as a consequence.
The widespread, systematic denial of humanitarian access to Darfur on an ethnic basis was first reported by the UN in 2003; in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains similar crimes began over a decade earlier. And yet this denial of humanitarian access, which has defined the counter-insurgency strategy of the current Khartoum regime since it seized power in 1989, shows no signs of ending. Nor is there any sign that such continuing atrocity crimes will be confronted with meaningful action by international actors, who know full well the deadly consequences of their own acquiescence.
This acquiescence currently takes various forms, including the UN’s selective release of reports comfirming bombing attacks on the territory of South Sudan; this decision to release only some of the confirming reports is a political one, apparently not made by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), but by UN/New York. Because only a fraction of the confirmations are made public, and because many reported aerial attacks go uninvestigated, this has the effect of increasing Khartoum’s sense of impunity. The UN also insists it has no mandate to investigate aerial attacks that occur along the border but inside northern Sudan. Additionally, the UN has highly restrictive security protocols that often prevent investigation.
Certainly the regime at this point is inured to the perfunctory international condemnations of its bombing attacks, which have been continuous for nearly ten years in Darfur and for a year in South Kordofan (in Blue Nile the aerial campaign began on September 1, 2011). There seems to be no willingness to accept the argument, developed in the original version of this report (see pp. 17 – 18), that continuous, widespread, and deliberate aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians constitute crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute that serves as the basis for the International Criminal Court.
III. Health and security continue to deteriorate as bombing is unrelenting
In South Kordofan intense bombing continues in the Nuba Mountains, and the region is rapidly approaching famine. Because aerial assaults prevented the planting and tending of crops last year, the harvest this past fall was exceptionally poor. And as the rainy season begins again, the continuation of such aerial attacks threatens to destroy yet another agricultural cycle: it now seems extremely unlikely that there will be any significant harvest this coming fall. Many people, desperately hungry, have already eaten the seeds they had saved for spring planting.
This is the context in which Khartoum adamantly refuses all humanitarian access to people of the Nuba and Blue Nile; as a direct result, more than 200,000 civilians have fled as refugees to Ethiopia, Upper Nile, and Unity State. MSF recently reported that an additional 30,000 refugees have fled from Blue Nile to Upper Nile. Tens of thousands more appear to be moving toward the border. And those who remain now suffer from exceedingly high rates of malnutrition. Measurements of both Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM)among refugees, especially children under five, indicate that many have already succumbed to the effects of malnutrition, including a wide range of diseases that typically prove fatal in the weakened bodies of starving people.
One highly credible report from Yida camp puts the SAM rate for newly arriving children under five at approximately five percent (Amnesty International estimates the number of new arrivals in Unity State at 550 refugees per day). Such extreme malnutrition has a very high mortality rate; in turn, these children are our best indicator of conditions among those in the Nuba who have been internally displaced or remain trapped without access to their homes and lands. In the Nuba and Blue Nile together, this represents perhaps as many as 1 million civilians.
We have numerous first-hand reports on conditions in the Nuba—from various journalists, from human rights groups (including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), from humanitarians, and even the intrepid U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf. All report widespread and severe malnutrition, massive numbers of people displaced from their homes and living in caves or in ravines, villages burned along with foodstocks—and relentless aerial bombardment that ensures agricultural life remains paralyzed.
It is no longer a matter of reasonable dispute: Khartoum is deliberately starving the people of the Nuba in an effort to destroy them and the rebellion by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N). This is a reprise of the genocidal campaign in the Nuba that the regime mounted in the 1990s. And a key instrument in this campaign of starvation is the terror of aerial attacks. Various international actors—including the UN, the U.S., and the European Union—have demanded an end to such attacks and demanded also that Khartoum grant humanitarian access, most recently in UN Security Council Resolution 2046 (May 2, 2012). But the international community seems also to have decided not to punish Khartoum for its continuing aerial assaults on civilians, or to press for nonconsensual humanitarian corridors, even to save the lives of people at such acute risk. Rather than risk the ire of Khartoum, the international community is prepared to watch as hundreds of thousands of human beings move closer to starvation. As a consequence, this will be one of the greatest killing seasons in Sudan’s tortured history.
IV. Aerial attacks on sovereign territory of the Republic of South Sudan
I believe it is imperative that we bear in mind the history and character of the attacks that have been documented in detail, by a very wide range of reporting sources, over the past thirteen years. If we are to understand the cruelty of the aerial attacks that are largely invisible to us, we should recall those bombings for which there were many witnesses, as was the case in Rier (in what was then Western Upper Nile) on May 22, 2002.
“People were sleeping and therefore taken unawares. The Antonov dropped sixteen bombs in total—eight in one location and eight nearby. Eleven people were killed on the spot and 35 seriously wounded. The situation is described as carnage, with bodies lying everywhere—legs and arms blown off. Most of those wounded were young boys aged 10 and 11 years. The number of those killed is rising—reported now to be 15 killed. NPA [Norwegian People’s Aid] was there eleven hours after the attack to treat and evacuate the wounded. 24 people were evacuated yesterday. More wounded (79) have been evacuated today. The most serious cases have been taken to NPA in Equatoria. The extent of the carnage has made it difficult to cope. Even the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] hospital in Lokichoggio [Kenya] has been overwhelmed by the number of casualties.”
“Independent witnesses around the spot to verify the accuracy of the report are two journalists; one French photographer and an East African reporter were there after the attack. A senior U.S. aid official witnessed the evacuation and has seen for the first time the extent of the damage. It is important to note that these attacks were behind the frontlines and also the timings were particularly brutal, catching people (unawares) while they were sleeping. NPA staff on ground described (the bombing) as brutal with bodies littered everywhere. Staff and journalists were totally shocked at what they saw. Reports and pictures will follow.” (Report by Norwegian People’s Aid, May 23, 2002)
Such attacks have not ended in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, or in South Sudan. Indeed, although this report and its various updates have specifically chronicled aerial assaults on South Sudan since November 2010, these attacks—including attacks on civilians—have increased dramatically in 2012, with immense political and military implications. The most dramatic increase in aerial attacks began with the decision by the Government of South Sudan in Juba to shut down oil production this past January; the decision was made in light of Khartoum’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith on the issue of oil transport fees (i.e., the fees Juba would pay to Khartoum for exporting oil from Southern oil reserves to Port Sudan on the Red Sea).
Among these more recent attacks are many that have killed Southern civilians: in late April the United Nations confirmed that at least 16 civilians in South Sudan had been killed and 34 injured in bombings by Sudanese aircraft bombings in Unity State near the border with Sudan. This number significantly understates the total number of casualties. For example, Agence France-Presse reported that the bombing attacks of April 14, 2012 alone …
“… killed 10 civilians in South Sudan’s Unity border state, said the area’s information minister, Gideon Gatpan. Bombs were dropped near the oil-producing state’s capital Bentiu, as well as in the village of Mayom, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) to the west, he said. ‘In Mayom… it killed seven civilians and wounded 14, two bombs fell inside the UN camp in Mayom and destroyed a generator and a radio,’ Gatpan said, adding that three people were also killed in villages around Bentiu. UN peacekeeping mission spokesman Kouider Zerrouk confirmed the attack ….”
On April 23 the city of Bentiu was again struck by indiscriminate bombing attacks, this time photographed by Reuters and reported by the Wall Street Journal:
“[In] an airstrike near Bentiu, South Sudan, Monday [April 23, 2012], Sudanese aircraft bombed an area near a major town in South Sudan Monday, increasing the threat that a full-scale war could break out between the two nations. A boy was killed and at least two people were wounded. A body lay covered with sheets in a market in Rubkona after the airstrike. A South Sudan official described Rubkona as a major population area.”
UN IRIN reported (April 30) on the same attack:
“Teresa Nyakuoth, a 24-year-old mother of two, recalls how she was shopping in the market next to her home in Rubkhona, a district of the South Sudanese town of Bentiu, when a Sudanese bomb fell on 23 April. The blast killed one teenage boy instantly, and another died later that day in hospital, where he had been admitted with severe burns and head wounds.”
Again, despite photographic evidence and countless witnesses—including journalists—Khartoum baldly denied it had any role in the bombing attack.
One of the most brutal recent assaults against civilians, and humanitarians, occurred on January 24, 2012 (Reuters/Geneva):
“Aircraft bombed a South Sudan camp containing 5,000 refugees near the border with Sudan on Monday, injuring one boy and leaving 14 missing, the United Nations refugee agency said. Several bombs were dropped on El Foj, a transit site less than 10 kilometers from the border in Upper Nile state, UN spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.”
Khartoum’s frequent bombing of refugee camps, in both Unity and Upper Nile, should have provoked the most forceful condemnations and harshest sanctions. Instead, nothing of consequence has been said or done—and the aerial attacks will continue, with no end in sight.
Confirmed bombing attacks occurred in all the South Sudan states that border Sudan: Western Bahr el-Ghazal, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, Warrap, Unity, and Upper Nile ….
Full report—and data spreadsheet—can be found at www.sudanbombing.org (with the following additional sections):
V. Aerial attacks on the Nuba Mountains
VI. Aerial attacks on Blue Nile
VII. Aerial attacks in Darfur
VIII. Quantifying the effects of bombing attacks on civilians (current data are presented in the accompanying spreadsheet)
IX. Aircraft and munitions in use
X. The future
•Data sources for the current update