Introduction to “‘They Bombed Everything that Moved’: Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2011” (May 2011)

“They Bombed Everything that Moved”: Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2011 (original publication: May 2011)     •

I. Introduction: Unparalleled Atrocity Crimes

(names and locations in this and the following section are highlighted in bold on first mention; all emphases in quotations have been added)

For well over a decade the Government of Sudan—the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum—has engaged in a sustained campaign of deliberate aerial military attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets in both South Sudan (formerly part of Sudan) and Sudan itself. These attacks have been only fitfully condemned by the international community, and no effective action has been taken to halt them. This silence has endured even when the attacks have been authoritatively documented—in South Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains, in southern Blue Nile, and most recently in Darfur. Such barbarism occurs nowhere else in the world: nowhere else has a nominally sovereign government, represented at the United Nations and within various international organizations, engaged for years in deliberate, systematic, and immensely destructive aerial attacks on its own civilians and on humanitarians as part of a counter-insurgency strategy.

Recent events in Libya should remind us that it is not unprecedented for governments to engage in aerial attacks on their own civilians. The regimes in Nicaragua (1979) and El Salvador (early 1980s) used military aircraft to drop U.S.-supplied ordnance on civilians. There were also aerial attacks on civilians during the Biafran secession effort in the late 1960s. Aerial attacks associated with the Anfalin Iraq (1987-88) offer a telling point of comparison and are discussed below. Certainly it must also be observed that deliberate aerial attacks on civilians of other nations have occurred in many previous conflicts, indeed as long as military air power has existed.

But never have we seen what currently occurs in Sudan.

The consequences of these unrebuked atrocity crimes are many. Not only have the attacks produced many thousands of deaths and injuries, but large-scale displacement is frequently the consequence of sustained bombing attacks. Here the numbers are many hundreds of thousands. Humanitarian relief efforts are also often targeted and in many cases personnel and operations have been forced to relocate; over time, the human costs of curtailing urgently needed assistance are immense. Beyond this, civilian populations subject to repeated, random—or ethnically-targeted—assaults become profoundly demoralized. This has been one of the enduring goals in Khartoum’s counter-insurgency efforts. Agriculture in particular suffers as a consequence; this has been true in South Sudan, the Nuba, Blue Nile, and is currently the case in Darfur.

A Climate of Impunity

There are other consequences, less obvious but no less destructive. Because there has been no meaningful international response to Khartoum’s aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians in the past, the NIF/NCP regime has inevitably inferred that it will incur no future judgment or face significant consequences. It is not surprising that even as aerial bombing and strafing attacks on civilian targets in Darfur have sharply escalated since fall 2010, the regime has demanded (February 2011) that the remaining international human rights scrutiny in the country—including Darfur—be removed. The ineffective Mohamed Chande Othman, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as an “independent” investigator for Sudan, will see his term end in May 2011, possibly without renewal from the Council. His powers and voice are much less significant than the former UN Special Rapporteurs on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan; even so, the bizarrely constituted and morally corrupt UNHRC will likely accede to the demand made by Khartoum’s Minister of Justice, Mohamed Bushara Dousa, that Othman’s function be terminated. This will likely further encourage the regime to believe that it may continue—with impunity—to attack civilians using military aircraft.

These demands of UN Security Council Resolution 1556 (July 2004) have been regularly reiterated in subsequent Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1591 (March 2005), which “demands,” under Chapter 7 authority of the UN Charter, that “the Government of Sudan… immediately cease conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region” (Paragraph 7). The virtually daily flights currently undertaken by Khartoum’s military, as well as the many hundreds of offensive flights subsequent to March 2005, have produced neither consequential criticism nor meaningful sanctions against the regime. And yet all these flights stand in continuous violation of Resolution 1591. This basic fact has been repeatedly confirmed by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, created as a monitoring mechanism by the same resolution.

A Singularity

The perverse singularity of sustained, deliberate, and unconstrained aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets over many years has motivated the present analysis, schematic history, and archival project, as has the conviction that the profound anonymity of the victims of these attacks is morally intolerable: they deserve some reckoning, some accounting, some identifiable part in this unspeakably grim history of incidents that together constitute crimes against humanity.

The early response of many Western governments to reports of aerial attacks on civilians was denial, or assertion that these reports were simply part of wartime propaganda. Civilian victims were “collateral damage” in the counter-insurgency war, it was claimed, but not targets in themselves. For this reason and others, a range of sources in South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile began to collect and verify reported bombings in 1999 (earlier data on mortality had come from research sponsored by the US Committee for Refugees, and made clear the vast scale of human destruction in the war, and that victims were overwhelmingly noncombatants). It soon became evident from these reports that Khartoum was in fact engaged in deliberate civilian attacks from the air, and that these attacks were defining of military strategy—and had been for years. International denial was no longer possible after reports were brought to the world’s attention, and yet no action or response ensued, nothing that would bring the attacks to an end. Some of the most horrific bombing and aerial strafing attacks occurred in 2002, in the months before a “cessation of offensive hostilities agreement” was signed by the Khartoum regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) (October 15, 2002).

One notable point of comparison here is Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign of 1987-88, in which military air assets were used against Kurdish civilians in highly destructive fashion. More than 100,000 Kurds—overwhelming civilians—were exterminated by aerial and ground poison gas attacks, large-scale executions, disease and malnutrition. More than 4,000 villages were destroyed, many by comprehensive dynamiting of all buildings. Aircraft were most notoriously deployed in the March 1988 massacre at Halabja, a poison gas attack that killed some 5,000 Kurds and injured many thousands more. The international response to this genocidal assault was disgraceful, and has been witheringly chronicled by Samantha Power in “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (New York, 2002).

Despite its terrible destructiveness and genocidal character, the Anfal campaign was not of sufficient duration to permit the kind of extensive chronicling of aerial destruction that is possible for the past twelve years in Sudan. Nor did the Anfal target relief workers and humanitarian operations, as Khartoum has repeatedly done over many years. Sudan is unique for the sheer scale and duration of deliberate aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians, and by virtue of the world community’s failure to change the political and military calculus that governs NIF/NCP thinking in continuing with these attacks.

Conspicuous, sustained, and consequential violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sudan reveal the profound failure of the “responsibility to protect,” a supposedly “emerging legal norm” that was unanimously endorsed by General Assembly members at the UN World Summit of September 2005. As the present historical analysis and archive demonstrate, more than five years after this “endorsement” there has been no change in military tactics by the Khartoum regime in Darfur despite international attention and putative endorsement of the “responsibility to protect.” Aerial military assaults on civilians that defined war in the South, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile continue relentlessly and systematically in Darfur, if with modifications to comport with the broader genocidal counter-insurgency strategy that has emerged since mid-2003.

To be sure, there have been temporary cessations of bombing and strafing attacks when it has seemed diplomatically expedient. There is even some evidence [1] that attacks in the South declined when international actors were occasionally compelled by evidence to accept publicly that this was not merely “collateral” civilian destruction, but military policy (there was little bombing toward the end of 1999). But we must also note in this connection Khartoum’s behavior prior to serious talks in the Naivasha negotiations to reach a North/South peace agreement. US special envoy John Danforth had made the halting of aerial attacks one of his four “confidence-building” measures for judging the willingness of the Northern and Southern leaderships to make peace. But although Danforth presented the proposal to the regime during a November 2001 mission, Khartoum refused to cease bombing civilians (with the exception of December 2001).

Indeed, half a year after Danforth’s proposal the aerial assaults on civilian and humanitarian targets continued with unconstrained savagery. On May 22, 2002 Khartoum’s bombers struck Rier town in Mayom County in what was then Western Upper Nile, now Unity State Reports by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) were quickly confirmed in wire reports as well as in a report from the ground by an operational humanitarian organization at Rier (Norwegian People’s Aid). This attack is particularly notable, both for its date in relation to the Danforth proposal and for what it shows of Khartoum’s contempt for international opinion; it also illustrates the nature and consequences of aerial assaults on civilians. The attack on Rier occurred at 2am in the morning:

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 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)

In addition to the bombing of Rier, nearby Tam was bombed on May 23, 2002 and relief workers in Lokichoggio (Kenya) reported that Khartoum had also bombed the village of Lil (a few miles from Touc, also in what was then Western Upper Nile) on May 21, 2002, killing another 17 people (Reuters [Nairobi], May 24, 2002).

Khartoum eventually acceded to Danforth’s demands, but not until the October 15, 2002 “cessation of offensive hostilities agreement” was signed—almost a year after Danforth first proposed an end to aerial attacks on civilians as a benchmark for continued U.S. diplomatic engagement. The agreement has as diplomatic context the Machakos Protocol of July 2002, a breakthrough in negotiations that guaranteed a self-determination referendum for South Sudan. Here we should also recall that Danforth had unwisely attempted to persuade the Southern leadership to give up on its demand for such a referendum earlier in 2002; he was rebuffed decisively by SPLM leader John Garang—perhaps the only Southern Sudanese leader possessed of sufficient courage and stature to deny the U.S. on this key issue. The referendum was, of course, always the essential element of any peace agreement.

Khartoum also deployed military jet aircraft. Among the most notorious attacks in the South was a military jet aircraft strafing of a Dinka cattle camp in Mundri, Western Equatoria, in September 2002; 13 civilians were killed and a great number of cattle lost, all shortly before the cessation of hostilities agreement. In Darfur, all forms of military aircraft—Antonovs, helicopter gunships, and military jet aircraft (including advanced MiG-29s)—have been deployed regularly by the SAF since the beginning of counter-insurgency warfare in 2003. Moreover, these attacks have been just as deliberate as those in South Sudan. In some cases the intentions of SAF attackers have been documented, as in the recording made by Phil Cox of Native Voice Films, who in February 2004 captured a conversation between an army commander and an Antonov pilot:

Commander: “We’ve found people still in the village.”

Pilot:” Are they with us or against us?”

Commander: “They say they will work with us.”

Pilot: “They’re liars. Don’t trust them. Get rid of them.”

In a similar example,

Villagers fleeing a Janjaweed attack on the Um Berro area of North Darfur had in January 2004 intercepted, on FM, a radio conversation between an Antonov pilot and a man called Morad, a well-known military intelligence officer. “Morad, Morad,’ the pilot said, ‘burn everything! Destroy everything!’” (Flint and de Waal [2008], pp. 131-32).

There is a great deal of other evidence of intent to kill civilians—including civilians of particular ethnicities. In some cases SAF document documents speak explicitly to the question of intent. Within a widely circulated directive, a key leader of Khartoum’s Arab militia allies (the Janjaweed) spoke bluntly: “Change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes,” declared Musa Hilal from his Khartoum-supplied headquarters in North Darfur. Hilal is not only a key Janjaweed leader, coordinating with Khartoum’s regular ground and air forces, he is also leader of an Arab supremacist organization “called the Tajamu al-Arabi, variously translated as the ‘Arab Gathering,’ ‘Arab Alliance,’ ‘Arab Congregation’ and ‘Arab Congress’” (Flint and de Waal [2005], p. 36). Ironically, this Arab supremacism had its origin in Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya, where aerial attacks against mainly Arab civilians were much noted prior to Western military intervention.

But of course the most conspicuous evidence is the much-photographed aftermath and narrative accounts of civilians who were targeted. In turn, of course, the very Antonov crews dropping bombs would surely have seen the massive civilian destruction that had preceded—including of hospitals, schools, and feeding centers—and known that further such destruction would almost surely ensue if they went on to drop their bombs. They understood full well what they were doing. Yet further evidence of intent derives from the clear geographic patterns—including patterns of ethnic habitation—governing attacks on civilians and humanitarians.

The Congruence of Military Ambitions and Civilian Destruction

While many aerial assaults on civilians are apparently random exercises in sustaining terror among a demoralized population, there is also frequently a military or economic purpose in the attacks. During the fighting in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile (primarily 1998 to 2002), scorched-earth military clearances of civilians were designed to create security for foreign national oil companies and their workers (including Talisman Energy of Canada). These attacks were some of the most brutal in the long history of aerial assaults on civilians in the South.

On February 20, 2002 the village of Bieh (in the middle of Concession Block 5a), just to the east of road construction, endured an especially cruel and destructive aerial attack. Two SAF Mi-24 helicopter gunships were deployed, both of which had flown over Bieh twice earlier in the day. On the final pass, in broad daylight, one gunship hovered overhead and conducted precautionary reconnaissance. The other helicopter gunship moved to a low hover position and then directed machine-gun fire and numerous rockets into a crowd of mainly women and children who had gathered for a UN World Food Program food distribution.

Twenty-four civilians were killed (including children), scores were injured, and many fled into the bush without food. A former high-level Western official who was camped near Bieh on an assessment mission at the time of the attack reported that even more casualties were discovered burned to death in the village tukuls that had been attacked with rockets.

Humanitarian sources confirmed that there was no military presence in or near Bieh. Moreover, the faces of the pilot and gunner could be clearly seen from the ground by WFP workers; the gunner and pilot, in turn, could clearly see that they were firing on noncombatants. This was made explicit at the time by Laura Melo, WFP spokeswoman in Nairobi:

“The helicopter was flying low enough that our staff could see inside the helicopter and a man inside firing a machine gun. How could they not see that there was food being distributed, that women and children were receiving food?” Melo said. (Associated Press [Nairobi], February 28, 2002)

Moreover, as Melo also pointed out, WFP had informed Khartoum officials of the food distribution (“All [humanitarian] interventions are cleared ahead of time and this one was also cleared”); the UN compound in Bieh was also well-marked and well-known. The facts are simply indisputable (a photographic record was made by relief workers at the time), and it is all too clear that the SAF intention was to kill civilians gathered for food aid and disrupt humanitarian relief in Bieh (there was of course an immediate withdrawal of all humanitarian personnel).

The response of the world community was typical, which is to say it was left for powerless UN humanitarian officials to condemn such attacks and declare them “unacceptable”—even as they continued to be accepted. Catherine Bertini, head of the UN World Food Program, declared: “Such attacks, deliberately targeting civilians about to receive humanitarian aid, are absolutely and utterly unacceptable…. This attack—the second of this kind in less than two weeks—is an intolerable affront to human life and humanitarian work.’” The earlier attack Bertini was referring to occurred in the village of Akuem on February 10, 2002. Two children were killed and about a dozen people injured in this SAF attack, in which an Antonov dropped six bombs on residents who were collecting food. The food had been airdropped into the village by the WFP three hours before the bombing, and Khartoum officials had been notified.

Despite the WFP notification of food delivery, the regime apologized for the Akuem bombing by describing it as a “regrettable accident.”   A senior NIF/NCP official, Ghazi Salah el-Din Attabani, declared of the later Bieh attack that is was an “accident of war,” and that the desperately hungry people of Bieh were “unintended victims” (Ghazi now has primary responsibilities for the regime’s Darfur policy, and his contempt for the truth about Khartoum’s military attacks on civilians is undiminished).Khartoum’s embassy in Spain would later go further, issuing a statement declaring that the attack on Bieh was the “government forces’ defensive response'” (Agence France-Presse [dateline, Madrid] March 1, 2002).

Two years earlier MSF-Switzerland (which operated a medical facility in Kajo Keji, Central Equatoria), had conducted a survey of bombing attacks against civilians in South Sudan and reached unambiguous conclusions. In 1999, the year MSF won the Nobel Peace Prize, the organization found that SAF aircraft bombed the Kajo Keji hospital 10 times, dropping a total of 66 bombs. After experiencing repeated attacks on its hospital, MSF began an investigation of several reported bombing sites in Equatoria. Even though its investigation covered only 15 of the sites where civilian bombings allegedly occurred, MSF documented 60 separate raids on civilian and humanitarian targets during 1999 alone. The authors concluded that Khartoum’s military dropped almost 400 bombs on these targets. MSF’s investigation found that (a) “the bombings are aimed at the civilian population and civilian targets, in particular hospitals and schools”; (b)the Khartoum regime appeared to be using chemical weapons and cluster bombs on civilian populations; (c) the bombing campaign was part of a “policy of terror which provokes new displacements of the population and increases the precariousness of the civilian population” (Médecins Sans Frontières, Living under aerial bombardments: Report of an investigation in the Province of Equatoria, Southern Sudan, February 20, 2000).

Assaults on civilians were early on associated with attacks on humanitarians; evidence that the attacks on humanitarians were deliberate is explicit in MSF’s conclusion that hospitals were particular targets. In 2000 there was a sharp increase in reports of these attacks, including on the scrupulously neutral International Committee of the Red Cross. Its clinic at Chelkou, in one of the most distressed regions of southern Sudan, was deliberately bombed on July 14, 2000. Reliable sources confirmed at the time that there was no military presence in or near Chelkou. Moreover, as part of its standard protocol, the ICRC had fully apprised the Khartoum regime of its presence in Chelkou and had secured permission. Then on July 25, 2000—more than 300 kilometers to the southeast in the village of Billing—Khartoum’s aircraft again bombed a clearly marked ICRC clinic.


Khartoum outwaited whatever condemnations ensued, and then resumed attacks. This international diffidence and weakness had further implications for the integrity of various agreements the regime committed to in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), and in particular for Khartoum’s continuing ambitions in the oil regions and the highly contested and extremely volatile Abyei region. Despite the success and overwhelming sentiment for secession reflected in the South Sudan self-determination referendum of January 2011, SPLM spokesman Samson Kwaje’s words—“the regime’s leadership cannot be trusted”—stand as appropriately cautionary, both for Darfur and for the South itself. Events in Abyei before, during, and after the referendum voting reveal an extraordinary recklessness on the part of Khartoum, deliberately escalating military tensions in the very region most likely to spark renewed conflict.

As if to underscore its character, Khartoum’s SAF provocatively bombed and strafed civilian and military targets in Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal during the two months before the January 2011 referendum, using both Antonovs and advanced military jet aircraft. While Juba remained calm and refused to be drawn into military retaliation, the larger implications of Khartoum’s provocations were not lost on the Southern leadership. Certainly there can be no doubt that orders for the aerial attacks came from the most senior leaders within the NIF/NCP regime.

These attacks highlight the consequences of international refusal to do more than condemn the regime’s aerial attacks on civilians, often in the tepid language of “regret” “dismay,” “disturbed.” Even when “condemnation” is declared or “demands” are made, they have never been accompanied by any credible threat of meaningful consequences for continuing intransigence.

The same is true for Darfur, where a continuing pattern of deliberate aerial assaults on civilians is now eight years old, and shows no signs of abating. Here again, humanitarian operations are caught up in violent insecurity, much of it orchestrated or sanctioned by Khartoum. Even the UN-authorized peace support operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has been targeted by aerial bombardment as a means of deterring investigations of war crimes. The failure of the international community in South Sudan provided the context in which the regime decided that it would incur no significant costs for the bombing of Darfuri civilian targets, or directing assaults against the facilities and personnel of humanitarian organizations working to provide relief to the more than 4 million people in need.

The unambiguous and extensive findings of the UN Panel of Experts for Darfur, documenting in authoritative detail a great many Darfur aerial attacks, again highlight international weakness. The Panel of Experts was created by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005), which specified two mandates for the Panel: to advise the Darfur Sanctions Committee of the Security Council concerning violations of the arms embargo on Darfur and—crucially—to monitor an “immediate” ban on all “offensive military flights in and over Darfur” (Paragraph 7).

As reports from the Panel from 2006 onward make clear, the arms embargo has been violated with impunity by all parties—though more extensively and consequentially by Khartoum. Especially prominent in these reports are the details of not just continuing SAF “offensive military flights over Darfur,” but the targeting of civilians, including civilian villages with no military presence, and the display of reckless disregard for relief operations—a recklessness that is designed to restrict access to humanitarian organizations. Attacks have often been directed at water sources, including wells and hafir (traditional reservoirs holding water from one rainy season to the next). Thus the Panel has found:

On 3 February 2009, aerial bombardment started at 5:55am and a number of international observers counted a total of 30 bomb explosions throughout the day. [The Justice and Equality Movement rebel group] alleged that Government of the Sudan planes had targeted the water points near the villages of Shawa and Umsosuna, killing a 57-year-old woman, three children and many donkeys. (p. 12)

The frequency of the attacks is variable, but the 2007 report from the Panel of Experts notes:

From September 2006 to June 2007, the Government of the Sudan conducted offensive military overflights in Darfur, which included aerial bombardments by Antonov aircraft, aerial attacks by Mi-24 attack helicopters and the use of air assets for military surveillance. Sixty-six such aerial attacks were reported during that period, of which 24 were confirmed definitively” (p. 15). (The Panel of Experts notes that “Aerial attacks identified here as ‘confirmed’ have been verified by at least two independent, reliable sources, or have been verified by the Panel of Experts during the Panel’s missions throughout Darfur. [This is a very high threshold for verification—ER]

The nature of the attacks on civilians is captured in a detailed account by the Panel in its 2008 report to the Security Council, specifically the bombing of Umu (West Darfur):

104.  According to local reports the bombing killed six people and injured four (one of these a four-year-old girl), all as a result of shrapnel and the haphazard yet deadly flight of metal pieces placed inside the ordnance. Secondary effects described by villagers included respiratory problems immediately following the bombing and illness resulting from villagers using the metal bomb fragments to construct eating utensils.

105. The bombing resulted in damage to several dwellings, the local clinic and the village water pump, thus depriving the community of its sole source of potable water. The nearest water source for the village is now the village of Daya, some 10 to 20 km away. Humanitarian aid from United Nations and other agencies has disappeared since the bombing and at the time of the Panel’s visit, the community was suffering from shortages of food and medicine. According to residents of Umu, Antonovs continue to fly regularly over the village, most often during the morning hours, terrifying the population. [The account concludes with a photograph of the water pump that was made inoperable by bomb shrapnel—ER]

In addition to the reports of the Panel of Experts, noted in the schematic history of Part II, there are also hundreds of reports of aerial attacks coming from human rights organizations, humanitarian organizations, journalists, and Darfuris who continue to maintain contact with the outside world, especially via Radio Dabanga, an invaluable clearinghouse of all such reports. A great many of these accounts have a numbing familiarity: early morning Antonov bombings of defenseless villages, followed by ground assaults by regular SAF forces and Janjaweed (Arab militias). Helicopter gunships have also been a notorious part of these attacks, often killing civilians at virtually point-blank range.

Khartoum’s aerial arsenal and its command structure

The aircraft of the Sudan Armed Forces have always been fully under the control of the Khartoum regime and its most senior military officials. This was true in South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and southern Blue Nile, and it has been equally true in Darfur. As Human Rights Watch reported in its key December 2005 study (“Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur”):

The Sudanese military structure in Darfur has a fairly straightforward chain of command: the Western Military Command is responsible for the operations of the Sudanese army in Darfur, with the overall commander reporting to Armed Forces Chief of Staff Abbas Arabi. Chief of Staff Arabi reports to Minister of Defence Maj. Gen. Bakri Hassan Salih, who reports to President El Bashir, a Lieutenant General and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces. [Bakri Hassan Salih is now Vice President within the Khartoum regime—ER, June 25, 2014]

The record of the Sudanese military in Darfur demonstrates that the crimes against civilians were part of a policy that can only have been created by the Sudanese political and military leadership in Khartoum. (page 34)

Human Rights Watch notes in particular, with respect to command of aerial assets:

The air force is apparently directed from a command and control center in Khartoum. Air crews of helicopter gunships are rotated from state to state. Aerial movements and support are closely coordinated with the army forces on the ground during attacks; according to Major General [Mohamed] Fazey, only he and the force commander of the entire operation in Darfur can order or authorize the deployment of helicopters. [ ]

Ultimately, the responsibility for the crimes committed by the Sudanese military lies with President El Bashir as the commander-in-chief, Chief of Staff Abbas Arabi, former Minister of Defence Maj. Gen. Bakri Hassan Salih, and other key military staff. (page 35)

There is broad consensus about the military aircraft in the arsenal of the SAF and under the command of senior leadership, but also several notable disparities. For example, IHS Jane’s (Englewood Colorado) is reported to have found evidence of 12 Antonov aircraft. US government officials estimate the number at about six, and the highly authoritative Small Arms Survey also estimates six. Additionally, the Small Arms Survey reported in December 2009 that SAF military aircraft included:

11     Su-25 ground attack aircraft, acquired 2007–08 from Belarus [these are actually Su-24s—ER]

12 – 20   Fantan (A-5) ground attack aircraft, acquired 2002 from China

44    Combat helicopters (armed Mi-17 or Mi-24), acquired over a number of          years from Russia

12    MiG-29 ground attack aircraft, 2003 – 2004

(SAS report No. 15, December 2009; Table 1: Conventional weapons systems transfers to Khartoum)

Notably all these aircraft are designed or configured for air-to-ground combat; the SAF faces no aerial threat anywhere in Sudan. It has been widely reported that Khartoum acquired a second consignment of 12 MiG-29 aircraft in 2008 and following. The MiG-29 is an extremely advanced Russian military aircraft, even as none of the rebel groups has any offensive military aircraft (the Government of South Sudan recently acquired 10 transport helicopters; these might be retrofitted for military purposes, but pose no threat to fixed-wing aircraft). Many other military aircraft have been reported to be in the SAF arsenal, and have been confirmed in the past; but these reports come from a range of sources, and often without an indication of whether the aircraft are in service or not.

Military aircraft are presently based near Khartoum, at Wadi Sayyidna near Omdurman, at El Obeid (North Kordofan), at El Fasher (North Darfur), and sometimes at Nyala (South Darfur). Antonov bombers have been recently (January 2011) sighted at Port Sudan, evidently deployed there to avoid scrutiny by UN observers (this information comes from a Sudanese observer on the ground [email received January 5, 2011] as well as satellite intelligence).

Relevant human rights law

There is a considerable body of international human rights and humanitarian law relevant to an assessment of deliberate, widespread and systematic aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians. There are moreover a great number of statements of “condemnation”—as well as of “commitment”—from the UN Security Council, the European Union, the U.S., and a number of other international actors. Significantly, no such condemnation—with an appropriate assignment of responsibility—has been rendered explicitly by the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or the African Union Peace and Security Council. There would seem to be a peculiarly temperate concern for non-Arab Muslim civilians who are the victims of targeted, as well as indiscriminate, aerial assault.

A partial list of relevant documents:

•  Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7 (“Crimes Against Humanity”), Paragraph 1 (k)

•  Protocol Additional (I) to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, Articles 50 – 51 (NB: Article 51, paragraph 5 [a])

•  Geneva Convention (IV), Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 12 August 1949, Article 147

•  Statute of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Article 3 (c), Article 8 (“War Crimes”), paragraph 2 (b) [i, ii, iii, iv, v, ix – xx, xxiv] and 2 (e) [i, ii, iii]

•  Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Article 6 (c)

•  UN Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), Article 2 (c)

•  UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005); acting under Chapter 7 authority of the UN Charter, the Council “Demands that the Government of Sudan, in accordance with its commitments under the 8 April 2004 N’djamena Ceasefire Agreement and the 9 November 2004 Abuja Security Protocol, immediately cease conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region….” (Paragraph 7)

•  UN Security Council Resolution 1674 (April 2006), “reaffirming the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.”

In this report, the term “crimes against humanity” derives from the language of the Rome Statute, the statuatory basis for the International Criminal Court, which stresses “acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population…” (Article 7.1). At least three of the eleven acts specified (7.1.a/h/k) must be construed as including aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians.   7.2.a specifies the meaning of a key phrase: “‘attack directed against any civilian populations’ means a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts referred to in paragraph 1 against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack.”

The evidence of the present report leads ineluctably to the conclusion that the NIF/NCP regime and the SAF are guilty of “crimes against humanity.”