Section II. A Schematic History of Aerial Assaults on Civilians in Sudan (from “They Bombed Everything that Moved” (May 2011)

Section II. A Schematic History of Aerial Assaults on Civilians in Sudan (from “They Bombed Everything that Moved”     •

[Again, all emphases have been added unless otherwise indicated, names and locations are indicated in bold on first mention–ER]

This schematic history attempts to organize access to and understanding of a data archive of all known aerial military attacks on civilians, civilian targets, and humanitarian workers and operations in Sudan (Part IV of this report). It is organized chronologically by year from 1999 to 2011, and focuses on attacks that are especially revealing, either in their destructiveness, the deliberateness with which humanitarians and civilians were attacked, or the changing tactics in aerial attacks, including the increasing use of helicopter gunships in both the oil regions of the South and in Darfur. As a consequence, this history treats only a very small percentage of the total attacks reported in the archive, which represents the collation and organization of many data sets and specific reports.

The account does, however, provide the context necessary for understanding the more than 1,400 entries that have been organized by date, location, number of casualties, type of attacking aircraft, identity of victims if known (age, gender, physical disability, even names if available), our sources of information, and observational notes. Aerial attacks certainly occurred much earlier than 1999 in the North/South war (1983 – 2002/5)—indeed, the first recorded attack on civilians in the records appears to be in 1969 under the rule of Jaafer Nimeiri, during the first civil war. But actual data sets for these attacks only began to be assembled systematically in 1999. The task was taken on largely in response to continued international skepticism that attacks on civilians were deliberate (some revealing earlier data have been included in the final data spreadsheet).

As war shifted to Darfur, with major counter-insurgency attacks beginning in April 2003, there is a sharp corresponding shift in the focus of this history. The first nine months of 2002 were a period of especially brutal aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians in the South, but these largely—though not completely—ended with the “cessation of offensive hostilities agreement” of October 2002, signed by Khartoum and the SPLM/A. Thus there is a partial hiatus of approximately half a year in the twelve years of aerial attacks covered in this history. What this means is that except for the period between October 2002 and April 2003, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime has for more than twelve consecutive years engaged in deliberate, widespread, and immensely destructive attacks on civilians and humanitarians, incurring no significant international rebuke or punishment during that period. And these attacks continue; one of the very last attacks reported prior to this writing comes from Radio Dabanga, an increasingly important news source for Darfur as a whole:

•  18 women and 9 children killed in air strike in Jebel Marra, Darfur

“Twenty-seven people were killed, including 18 women and 9 children, when an Antonov plane dropped several bombs on the areas of Koloberi and Gurlengbang in the southern part of the Jebel Marra region. Six women were also injured in the air attack. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the airstrikes led to the burning of 27 houses and also the death of sheep and cattle. He stated that the bombed areas had been free of any rebel presence. Radio Dabanga could not contact the army for comments.” (JEBEL MARRA, 28 April 2011)

What must be borne in mind in assessing such attacks is the international diplomatic attitude toward Darfur that has come to prevail in the first half of 2011—an attitude that reflects an ugly if unacknowledged quid pro quo: the Khartoum regime has accepted a deal in which it will allow the results of the self-determination referendum for South Sudan to be implemented (though excluding Abyei) so long as the international community ceases to interfere with Khartoum’s military ambitions in Darfur. In the words of Foreign Minister Ali Karti (January 26, 2011):

“The Sudanese have fulfilled an essential obligation [in allowing the self-determination referendum in the South to go forward]. As far as world expectations go, we have delivered and thus our commitment to peace should never be in question…. Normalization of relations should not be held hostage by Darfur.”

The expediency on the part of international actors of consequence accepting this deal has signaled to Khartoum that it may resume counter-insurgency warfare of a sort that defined the early years of genocidal destruction. Notably, ethnically-targeted killing of non-Arab/African Darfuri civilians (primarily Zaghawa) is again part of Khartoum’s military strategy, as are large-scale ground and air attacks against civilians. Prior to 1999 there were a number of individual reports about Antonov bombing attacks from highly credible sources.

Ted Dagne of the U.S. Congressional Research Service, a frequent visitor to South Sudan, reports that in 1993—when he served as a Congressional aide to Representative Harry Johnston—large numbers of bombs were dropped on Nimule while he was present.  Brian D’Silva of the U.S. Agency for International Development was in Yei in 1997 when it was bombed (bombing attacks did major damage to both the hospital and the cathedral in Yei during these years).  The UN reported the deaths of 17 civilians in the February 6, 1994 bombing of the marketplace in Kajo Keji (Central Equatoria). These attacks were in many ways typical of those that would occur in later years: Antonov bombers flying at high altitudes dropped crude barrel bombs that had simply been rolled out the back cargo bay, with no possibility of attaining a militarily useful accuracy.  All such attacks on populated areas were indiscriminate, and more likely to kill civilians than military personnel. They have been consistently included in the data archive on which this report is based. Other early bombing events were extraordinarily destructive. Norwegian People’s Aid reported on April 7, 1998 that:

Yei Hospital was bombed this morning, between 10:50am and 11:10am, by Government of Sudan airplanes. Thirteen bombs were directed at Yei Hospital—which is supported by the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). So far eleven (11) people have been found killed as a consequence of the attack. One of the killed was a local employee of the NPA. The recently rehabilitated surgical unit at the hospital was demolished by one bomb. Just afterwards the bomb shelter, in which many had sought shelter, received a direct hit by another bomb.

UN and other sources reported many other bombing attacks before 1999, directed against civilian targets or that were indiscriminate in nature.  But these reports reflect very little of what occurred, and are largely a function of happenstance presence (even so, more than 75 incidents are included in this archive—attacks that caused more than 200 known casualties). As the attacks continued and silence remained the international response, there was growing determination by international humanitarian organizations, Sudanese church groups, and human rights advocates to chronicle these egregious violations of international law.

The earliest true data sets represented here come from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins San Frontières (MSF)/Switzerland, the US Committee for Refugees, and John Ashworth of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, along with much supplementary reporting from UN and other sources. 1999: It was the character of the bombing attacks that finally prompted a determined effort to chronicle them in detail. In its preface to a February 2000 study (Living under aerial bombardments: Report of an investigation in the Province of Equatoria, Southern Sudan), MSF-Switzerland reported that:

Since the beginning of the year 1999 until this very moment, we have been experiencing and witnessing direct aerial bombings of the hospital, while full of patients, and of the living compound of our medical team (10 bombings in 1999, a total of 66 bombs dropped, with 13 hitting the hospital premises) [emphasis in original]. Facing the sharp increase of aerial bombardments in this region during 1999, frequently aimed at civilian structures such as hospitals, in November 1999, we requested an investigation of these events and their consequences for the civilian population in the area.

The elements of this investigation, included in the report herewith, tend to demonstrate that the strategy used by the Sudanese Air Force in this region, is deliberately aimed at targeting civilian structures, causing indiscriminate deaths and injuries, and contributes to a climate of terror among the civilian population (emphasis added). Furthermore, 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.”

The use of chemical weapons by Khartoum has never been properly investigated by the UN; nor has the international community pushed effectively for such investigation. Despite very strong prima facie evidence that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) had engaged in chemical warfare on a number of occasions, a decade after the end of the Iraqi Anfal the international community again showed no interest in investigating:

MSF is particularly worried about the use or alleged use of prohibited weapons (such as cluster bombs and chemical bombs) that have indiscriminate effect. The allegations regarding the use of chemical bombs started on 23 July 1999, when the villages of Lainya and Loka (Yei County) were bombed with chemical products. In a reaction to this event, a group of non-governmental organizations had taken samples on the 30th of July, and on the 7th of August; the United Nations did the same.

Although the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is competent and empowered to carry out such an ‘investigation of alleged use,’ it needs an official request made by another State Party. To date, we deplore that OPCW has not received any official request from any State Party to investigate, and that since the UN samples taking, no public statement has been made concerning these samples nor the results of the laboratory tests.

MSF offers several eyewitness accounts of chemical weapons in bombs, including a grim narrative of events in Yei County (now Central Equatoria):

The increase of the bombings on the civilian population and civilian targets in 1999 was accompanied by the use of cluster bombs and weapons containing chemical products. On 23 July 1999, the towns of Lainya and Loka (Yei County) were bombed with chemical products. At the time of this bombing, the usual subsequent results (i.e. shrapnel, destruction to the immediate environment, impact, etc.) did not take place. [Rather], the aftermath of this bombing resulted in a nauseating, thick cloud of smoke, and later symptoms such as children and adults vomiting blood and pregnant women having miscarriages were reported.

These symptoms of the victims leave no doubt as to the nature of the weapons used. Two field staff of the World Food Program (WFP) who went back to Lainya, three days after the bombing, had to be evacuated on the 27th of July. They were suffering of nausea, vomiting, eye and skin burns, loss of balance and headaches.

After this incident, the WFP interrupted its operations in the area, and most of the humanitarian organizations that are members of the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) had to suspend their activities after the UN had declared the area to be dangerous for its personnel.

There have been repeated reports of chemical weapons use after 1999; not one has been investigated by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In the body of the report, MSF—which had been working in eastern Equatoria since 1997—finds that their teams have:

…several times been victims and witnesses of these bombings that are only aimed at the civilian population and civilian targets. Hospitals and schools in particular are deliberately chosen as targets.

The hospital in Yei town—run by the nongovernmental Norwegian People’s Aid and marked with a large and conspicuous red cross on its roof—was also a particular target of Antonov bombing attacks in 1999. Yei was bombed on 15 different occasions during the year, and a total of 138 bombs were dropped. Ten people were known to have been killed, more were wounded, a number of civilian houses were destroyed, the hospital infrastructure was seriously damaged, and the facilities of two other humanitarian organizations were destroyed or damaged (the UN water facility was targeted in one of these attacks). A measure of the inaccuracy of the Antonov bombing is the fact that more than half the attacks did not cause casualties or damage, the bombs fell so wide of their targets. The quantitative scale of the bombings is reported in Section 4.1 of the MSF report:

According to a non-exhaustive list of bombings, more than sixty bombings took place between January 1999 and January 2000 in town and villages such as Narus, Chukudum, Labone, Kajo Keji, Maridi, Yei, Ikotos, Loka, Lainya, Parajok, Tali Post and Morobo. During the same period, a total of almost 400 bombs had been launched on the civilian population and civilian targets, killing at least 22 persons and wounding 51.

The terrifying effects of these bombing attacks were as consequential as actual physical destruction. One MSF worker reports:

“I have noticed that during periods of heavy bombings people are terrorized,” confesses a medical staff member of the Yei hospital. They may be coming to the hospital for treatment, but they do not have time to listen to the health practitioners. They want some medications and they run away.” [emphasis in original]

The fact of Khartoum’s deliberate targeting of hospitals is revealed in the sheer frequency with which the hospital at Kajo Keji was bombed:

The hospital of Kajo Keji in which MSF works has become a particularly privileged target of the Sudanese Government. The year 1999 started and ended with a bombing of the hospital. On 13 January 1999, five bombs were dropped on the hospital. Three of them destroyed the facilities used for the vaccination campaigns and seriously damaged the operation room and the consultation units. Fortunately, no casualties were reported. At the end of December 1999, another five bombs were dropped on the hospital.

Approximately 100 aerial attacks were confirmed in 1999, causing more than 200 known casualties. 2000: The data for the year was compiled in the main by John Ashworth, the US Committee for Refugees, Vigilance Soudan (France), and Human Rights Watch. Aggregated, the data show that there were in South Sudan approximately 225 different bombing attacks, causing more than 350 known casualties. On the evidence available, each of these attacks must be considered ipso facto an indiscriminate aerial attack on civilians, and thus a war crime. The character of the attacks appears to have changed little from 1999. But the geographic coverage in reports, especially from John Ashworth of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, is considerably expanded from Equatoria. Most of the attacks for July 2000 occurred in Bahr el Ghazal (now Western Bahr el Ghazal and Northern Bahr el Ghazal), greater Upper Nile, Jonglei, Lakes, as well as Equatoria. In addition to those killed and wounded, airstrips used by humanitarians were damaged at Akon and Adet. A humanitarian aircraft was damaged on the ground at Chelkou, and there were several near misses in other locations. In August bombing occurred in Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, and Equatoria.

Tonj, which was bombed twice, saw 5 – 7 killed and 100 injured as bombs fell in a market and near a school. A church compound in Tonj was hit later in the month. Ikotos in Eastern Equatoria also experienced heavy damage and the death of a 7-year-old boy. Bombing continued in September but became especially heavy in October and November, with many targets throughout Equatoria attacked. These bombings occurred near churches, food distribution points, several polio vaccination sites, a displaced persons camp, and a primary school. On November 11, 2000 one of the most notorious bombing attacks of the war occurred in Yei (now Central Equatoria): 18 – 19 civilians were killed, 53 were wounded (eleven critically), as six (of fourteen) bombs hit the central market at the busiest time of day. Antonovs would in subsequent days circle Yei without dropping bombs in a concerted effort to terrorize residents.

A videotape of the aftermath of the Yei bombing, viewed by the author, is in the possession of U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf. Significant bombing continued through the end of 2000, and included a particularly large number of humanitarian targets. Videotape was fortuitously made of another extraordinarily destructive bombing, that of the Comboni School in Kauda (Nuba Mountains) (also viewed by the author). On February 8, as outdoor classes were beginning at 9am in the morning, a bomb landed in the middle of a group of students just beginning their English reading text. Fourteen children and a teacher were killed, and seventeen were wounded, many severely. There was no military presence anywhere near the Comboni School; moreover, Khartoum had declared a cease-fire in January. And yet when Dierdiri Ahmed—Khartoum’s ambassador to Kenya (and now a central figure in defining the regime’s policies in Abyei)—was shown the videotape of the carnage, he declared “the bombs landed where they were supposed to land” (Reuters [Nairobi], February 11, 2000).

In June of 2000 the UN reported that 32 people had been killed during the bombing of the Catholic mission in Kajo Keji. On August 7 and 8, 2000 a series of bombings in and near Akuem (Northern Bahr el Ghazal) killed eight, wounded 200, and forced a suspension of Operation Lifeline Sudan, the critical humanitarian lifeline to the war-distressed populations of South Sudan. Human Rights Watch reported that the hospital town of Lui was heavily bombed on March 1, 2000—causing many casualties and partially destroying the hospital, perhaps the most important in South Sudan. Here it should be noted that there were a number of reports of more powerful bombs being used by the SAF, along with indications of some improvement in targeting ability (although not sufficient to make them accurate enough for true military purposes):

Roger Winter, Director of the US Committee for Refugees on a recent visit to Sudan stated that the bomb craters he investigated “are larger and deeper than those previously seen, suggesting that Sudanese planes might be using larger or more sophisticated bombs.  Some bomb craters were more than ten feet deep.  This is a new development.” (“The Human Rights Situation in Sudan,” Sudan Victims of Torture Group, report covering March 2000 to March 2001)

1999 – 2001 were central years in the period that might be referred to as the “oil war”: heavy fighting between Khartoum’s regular and militia forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was concentrated around Bentiu, in what is now Unity State. The strategy in Khartoum’s bombing in Equatoria and elsewhere was both to destroy civilian morale and to disrupt food production and distribution, making supply for the forward-based SPLA troops as difficult as possible. The same was true for bombings of civilians in Unity State, attacks that began to increase significantly in 2000. Also of note in 2000 was an increase in attacks on humanitarian sites outside of Equatoria, including on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Its clinic at Chelkou, in one of the most distressed regions of South 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. It was bombed anyway. On July 25, 2000—over 300 kilometers to the southeast in the village of Billing—Khartoum’s aircraft again bombed the ICRC. The failure of the international community to respond in any meaningful way to these deliberate assaults on a neutral humanitarian organization emboldened Khartoum in the years that followed. Altogether, for 2000 there were more than 600 known casualties—perhaps many times this number.

2001: Bombing continued at the same pace in 2001, with even more attacks on the areas north of Equatoria. The data collected by John Ashworth are particularly important for this year, and indicate that aerial attacks are moving northward more frequently. Almost 200 incidents were reported for the year, with Bahr el Ghazal, Blue Nile, and greater Upper Nile heavily bombed. Some of the bombings were especially destructive: 20 civilians were killed fleeing Raja town on October 1. 17 civilians were killed and 22 wounded in a series of attacks in eastern Equatoria from July 22 to July 24. The Nuba Mountains were also heavily bombed. Akuem (Aweil County East) was the target of especially deadly bombings in October and November: 42 were killed and a great many more wounded. As in previous years, bombing attacks were often immensely destructive to cattle herds, which—because they are large, slow-moving, and unable to take shelter—were often targeted. Given the centrality of cattle to the agricultural livelihoods of Sudan’s Nilotic tribes in particular, this destruction was especially consequential.

2002: 2001 and 2002 are years distinguished in part by the first explicitly reported attacks by helicopter gunships against civilian targets, in Koch and Leer counties (especially January – May 2002). Koch and Leer are both in the oil regions of what is now Unity State, and this made them the target for other new weapons systems; these were acquired by Khartoum with oil revenues that began to accrue in earnest in August 1999 with the first export shipment of crude. Determined to protect its investment and chief source of income, the NIF/NCP regime attempted to create a military cordon sanitaire around these oil regions. As part of this effort, villages along the road from Bentiu to Adok on the White Nile River were targeted. This was the primary reason that Bieh was attacked on February 20—an attack discussed in detail in the Introduction. 24 were killed and dozens of civilians were wounded as they gathered for a UN food distribution. Yet again, there was no military presence anywhere near Bieh, which was a known humanitarian site and clearly marked as such. Khartoum had been informed of this particular food distribution. Helicopter gunships attacked civilian targets in Unity State through May, often accompanied by Antonovs.

In late May, approximately two dozen attacks were reported in Mayom County alone, killing over 100 people and wounding well over 300 civilians. On June 11, 24 civilians were killed in an Antonov attack on Madier (Wau County, Western Bahr el Ghazal). Aerial attacks against civilians and humanitarians would remain heavy throughout the summer and into the fall, causing more than 500 known casualties for the year. In September—the month before the “cessation of hostilities agreement” was signed—attacks were nearly continuous, and involved the use of not only Antonovs and helicopter gunships, but Khartoum’s newly acquired MiG-29s, one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the Russian arsenal. The first confirmed attack was on a Dinka cattle camp outside Mundri, near Lui on September 21: more than twenty people were killed, many injured, and there was a tremendous loss of cattle (the author has an extensive photographic archive of the aftermath of the attack).

A second MiG-29 attack was directed against a church in Yei (Central Equatoria). The primary targets in the month prior to the “cessation of hostilities” agreement were in Blue Nile and Equatoria. Attacks would continue sporadically into 2003.

2003: Although we know, and have known for some time, that the period 2003 through 2004 and into 2005 were the most violent years of the genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur—and though there is a good deal of important and well-researched human rights reporting—there is relatively little decisive reporting and confirmation of particular aerial attacks on civilian targets, at least compared with South Sudan. There are 47 confirmed reports for 2003, the first year of full-scale counter-insurgency; these resulted in more than 600 known casualties. In 2004 approximately 120 attacks were confirmed, with more than 400 known casualties. But there were only 19 reported attacks for 2005 (Khartoum had declared a cessation of “hostile military overflights” at a summit in N’Djamena, Chad, February 2005).

Aerial attacks would accelerate in subsequent years, and so far in 2011 there have been over 75. These early findings might be thought at odds with the level of violence, but there appear to be a number of factors that account for the unexpectedly low number of reported and confirmed attacks. Of course much of the civilian destruction had been achieved by early 2005, and there were many fewer “targets of opportunity” following the destruction of thousands of African villages. This said, the fall-off in genocidal violence has been significantly overstated in various quarters, and we must still explain the patterns of increase and decrease in reported attacks. An especially significant problem is that not all reports on aerial attacks on civilians have been publicly disseminated.

The UN Commission of Inquiry issued a report in January 2005 that instances only two examples under the rubric “Killing as a result of air bombardment,” but declares that there were “many such attacks documented by the Commission” (§280). This documentation has not been made available. Unsurprisingly, the Commission has been severely criticized for the poor quality of its forensic work and a politicization of the investigation, including by an experienced member of the team. Even more consequentially, the genocidal nature of Khartoum’s counter-insurgency took a great deal of the humanitarian, human rights, and news-reporting world by surprise. Darfur was quite remote, with no easy access, and had had no previous news profile of note. And even when news and human rights reporters had gained a sense of what was occurring, Khartoum was determined not to allow the kind of access that had come with Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) in South Sudan (in any event, it had been impossible to close off the South from Uganda and Kenya).

As early as December 2003 the UN special envoy for humanitarian affairs in Darfur, Tom Vraalsen, was speaking of the “systematic denial” of humanitarian access to civilians in rebel-controlled areas. Since at this point the rebel groups were (as Khartoum well knew) dominated by the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa—non-Arab or African ethnic tribal groups in Darfur—this amounted to a denial of humanitarian aid on an ethnic basis, and thus access to the areas where most of the civilian destruction and aerial attacks were occurring. Without a large, well-organized, and experienced humanitarian presence early in the war—precisely what had finally made possible the kind of reporting on aerial attacks beginning in 1999—there was little chance that the same function could be served by the relatively few humanitarians in Darfur (for perspective, we should recall that the systematic collection of data about aerial assaults on civilian and humanitarian targets in the South began ten years after the inauguration of OLS and sixteen years after civil war resumed in 1983).

Moreover, some early misleading reporting on human rights abuses coming from humanitarian organizations—particularly MSF/France—actually obscured Darfur’s realities by refusing to acknowledge the ethnic-targeting that defined human suffering and destruction. Humanitarians were not sufficiently numerous in Darfur, did not have adequate freedom of movement—because this was northern Sudan—and were from the beginning kept under close and intimidating scrutiny by Khartoum’s brutal Military Intelligence, as well as local security officials. Also, the Darfur rebel groups had yet to establish their authority or credibility as reporters, which the SPLM had done by 1999 (the late Samson Kwaje, official SPLM spokesman, was especially reliable). This left the reporting in the main to Darfuris themselves and to interviewers from human rights organizations with limited access and highly constraining security concerns.

Another major problem was the comprehensiveness with which villages and village populations were destroyed: all men and boys were killed in many attacks; women and girls were raped, abducted, and often killed; many died in flight from destroyed villages. The attacks typically included, in addition to ground assault by SAF regular forces and Janjaweed militia, the use of Antonovs and helicopter gunships. So many died, so many fled, so many simply disappeared into eastern Chad or the camps for displaced, that there was often no narrative presence left to explain how a given village was destroyed. Satellite imagery from Google makes clear that thousands of African villages have been completely destroyed or badly damaged, though the imagery does not often permit inferences about whether the destruction included use of aerial military assets.

But the reports we have are so consistent, and so typically do include accounts of aerial military assaults, that it is impossible not to infer that the numbers represented in our spreadsheet very seriously understate, perhaps by and order of magnitude, the use of bombing and strafing attacks in village destruction in Darfur. At the same time, the close military cooperation between Khartoum’s ground and air forces and the Janjaweed militia, in a war of civilian destruction, has been authoritatively established by Human Rights Watch in a number of important reports, most comprehensively in “Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur” (December 2005). Overall command of this campaign of ethnic killings and displacement clearly belongs to the NIF/NCP regime, as Human Rights Watch rightly insists:

The Sudanese government policy of “ethnic cleansing” was strategic and well-planned. Since early 2003, the leadership in Khartoum has relied on civilian administration, the Sudanese military and Janjaweed militias to implement a counterinsurgency policy that deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in violation of international law. Ultimate responsibility for the creation and coordination of the policy lies in Khartoum, with the highest levels of the Sudanese leadership, including President Omar El Bashir, Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, and key national ministers and security chiefs.” (page 58)

The similarity of the international crimes—including those involving military aircraft—throughout Darfur leads Human Rights Watch to the inevitable conclusion:

The widespread and systematic abuses by government and Janjaweed forces against ethnic groups believed to be linked to the rebels amount to an attack on a civil population within the definition of crimes against humanity (emphasis added). The pattern of similar crimes against civilian populations in different areas of Darfur, as well as documentary and eyewitness evidence linking senior government officials with abusive military operations, point to a policy at the highest levels of the Sudanese government. (page 74)

Of course the same could be said of aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians in South Sudan. There is now no human rights reporting presence in Darfur with the qualified exceptions of the severely constrained UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, and Mohamed Chande Othman, uselessly appointed as “human rights specialist for Sudan” by a discredited UN Human Rights Council. The Panel of Experts was created per UN Resolution 1591 to monitor the nominal arms embargo on Darfur and the ban on all offensive military flights in Darfur (given their purposes, all flights by SAF aircraft are ipso facto violations of this ban). The UN/African Union “hybrid” force (UNAMID) has a very poor record of reporting human right abuses and confirming aerial attacks on civilians. No independent journalists are allowed into Darfur, certainly not with any freedom of movement.

2003-2004: The confirmed aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarian targets in this period are concentrated in West and North Darfur, especially the Kutum and Mukjar “localities” (the name for subdivisions within the three Darfur states; localities are themselves further divided, but I have used only “locality” in specifying a location within a state). Some of the attacks were especially destructive: a November 29, 2003 bombing of El Geneina, capital of West Darfur, killed 40 people and wounded an estimated 60 civilians. Thirty were killed in a coordinated air attack on Habilah (Habilah Locality, West Darfur) in August 2003. A series of aerial bombardments of villages in the Mukjar area in February and March 2004 displaced the populations of Denow, Forto, Gordouk, Hilat Fattah, Tendy, Dembow Kabdy, Ambara, and Hashberra; 65 civilians were killed in the bombings. Bombing reports became more frequent in South Darfur beginning in April 2004 (there were 120 for the year). In West Darfur the aerial attacks moved north to Kulbus Locality, and in North Darfur there was a sharp uptick in the number of bombings in El Fasher Locality.

On November 20, 2004, the Sudan Armed Forces bombed the Save the Children feeding center in Tawila (El Fasher Locality), killing 17 and forcing the evacuation of humanitarian staff. The month before, in Amika Sara (Nyala Locality), 17 were killed in an aerial attack that followed an assault on the village by SAF regular forces and Janjaweed. The character of the aerial attacks came fully into focus by the end of these first years of the genocide. Human Rights Watch reports of the Mornei area of West Darfur:

On February 6 [2004], the bombing started around Mornei. With the arrival of the Janjaweed the burning started. By February 12, there were forty-five thousand displaced and by February 25, there were sixty thousand displaced [in Mornei]. At least one hundred wounded, mainly from bullet wounds, and mainly women and children of varied age, arrived in Mornei. The Sudanese government and Janjaweed militias started in the north…. During one ten-day period there was bombing every night. We could see the columns of smoke rising outside Mornei. There were special army and police forces in Mornei, from Khartoum. They would go out on mission every day and come back. Helicopters came and took the wounded Janjaweed away from Mornei. (page 28)

Human Rights Watch goes on to report:

During the attacks [of spring 2004] in the Wadi Saleh and Mornei areas many civilians found in the villages were tortured and others were killed. A seventy-five-year old trader from Arwalla told Human Rights Watch that he stayed in his village after everyone else was gone. “Fleeing is shameful and I am a Muslim who has been in Mecca,” he said. When the Janjaweed militia arrived, they were screaming ‘Nuba, abid’ [racially derogatory terms frequently used in attacks on non-Arab Darfuris] he said. The Janjaweed mutilated him and left him for dead. (page 28)

The deliberate use of Antonovs to target civilians is clear in a Human Rights Watch account of the December 17, 2004 attack on the town of Labado. Many thousands of civilians from surrounding villages had fled to Labado in the belief that the town’s connection to a particular government official would prevent assault. They were wrong:

By December 16, the brigade of the 16th Infantry Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al Hajir Mohamed (the same commander who led the attacks on Marla and Ishma the previous week) had advanced to within eight kilometers of Labado. According to credible sources, the December 17 attack began in a village west of Labado in the early morning. At midday, an Antonov began circling Labado and bombed south of the town, then dropped four bombs east and then north. The bombing all around the town confused the residents, who were uncertain which way to run. Then the Antonov bombed the central marketplace. The government also reportedly used helicopter gunships. According to an international observer who interviewed displaced residents of Labado, there was a small contingent of SLA [rebel] troops living in Labado, in one specific compound, but the SLA troops fled as soon as the attack began.

Displaced people from Labado said that hundreds of Janjaweed militiamen then attacked the town and killed, burned, and looted at will. Government troops followed the militias, also killing civilians and destroying parts of the town. Some families were reportedly locked in their huts and burned to death. A large number of people were gathered in the school and apparently executed there. At least sixty civilians were reported to have been killed.

2005: Notable attacks in 2005 included a January 26 attack against Shangil Tobaya, which the African Union monitoring force (AMIS) estimated to have killed 100 civilians. There were also two attacks reported on civilians in Red Sea State, in eastern Sudan. Civilian casualties were estimated at approximately 100 and filled the hospitals in Port Sudan. By 2005 Khartoum has also begun to deploy its aerial military assets against Darfuri and Chadian civilian targets inside Chad, as Human Rights Watch reported in its February 2006 analysis “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad”:

Sudanese government participation and complicity in cross-border attacks: The links between the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militias in operations in Darfur have been comprehensively documented over the past few years. Human Rights Watch found evidence of apparent Sudanese government involvement in attacks against civilian populations in eastern Chad since early December 2005. Witness accounts and physical evidence indicated that government of Sudan troops and helicopter gunships participated directly in attacks, while many people reported seeing Antonov aircraft approach from Sudan, circle overhead, then return to Sudan in advance of Janjaweed raids; they believe spotters in these aircraft report concentrations of cattle to forces on the ground.

Human Rights Watch documented four attacks by armed forces based in Darfur between December 5 and 11, 2005, in the prefecture of Goungour, with more than 8,300 mostly Massalit inhabitants in fifty-one hamlets, located eighty kilometers south of Adré. The first two attacks reportedly involved Janjaweed militias backed by government of Sudan soldiers and vehicles and two attack helicopters, which rocketed several areas over a three-day period.  (pages 11 – 12)

2006: Aerial attacks on civilians in eastern Chad continued in 2006, as Human Rights Watch reported in a follow-up study of January 2007 (“‘They Came Here to Kill Us’: Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting of Civilians in Eastern Chad”): Sudanese government aircraft bombed villages in eastern Chad in October 2006, part of a broader pattern of indiscriminate bombing attacks against civilians in Darfur (page 15, based on HRW interviews and bomb-site assessments). Overall, there were more than 70 confirmed aerial attacks in 2006, the majority in North Darfur (primarily Kutum and El Fasher Localities).

Despite the signing of the ill-fated Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in May of 2006 (Abuja, Nigeria), no peace would come, but rather a further, disastrous fragmenting of the rebel groups. The split was particularly sharp between the forces of Minni Minawi, the only rebel signatory to the DPA, and non-signatory rebel groups; but other divisions emerged, fueled by ethnicity, political and personal ambitions, and tactical disagreement. Minawi recently abandoned the regime in Khartoum and his forces have been engaged in fierce fighting with SAF and Janjaweed forces since early December 2010. Altogether, some 100,000 people have been newly displaced by this fighting, much of it entailing indiscriminate aerial attacks. The year 2006 saw yet another use for aerial attacks, as Khartoum sought to thwart peace talks with the rebels:

Sudanese forces bombed two rebel locations in Darfur just days after the head of the African Union’s peacekeeping force visited the area to urge the rebels to join a cease-fire agreement, the AU said yesterday [December 30, 2006]. A Sudanese government aircraft on Friday [December 29, 2006] bombed Anka and Um Rai in North Darfur province where Gen. Luke Aprezi had met on Wednesday [December 27, 2006] with rebels, an AU statement said. “When a bombing is made after I have visited an area, my credibility is involved,” Aprezi told The Associated Press by telephone from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. “To that group, I don’t have any credibility anymore.”

The incident jeopardizes efforts to bring additional groups into the cease-fire that a single rebel faction and the government signed in May 2006, the AU said. [ ] The AU obtained consent from Sudanese officials in Darfur and the capital ahead of meeting the rebels, it said in the statement. It called Friday’s [December 29, 2006] attack “a seriously disturbing development.” (Associated Press [Khartoum], December 31, 2006)

The trend continued the following year:

Sudan stopped bombing raids at the beginning of the year but on April 19, 21 and 23 [2007], its air force hit three towns in North Darfur and prevented a meeting of rebel commanders [the regime] has encouraged to take place. (Reuters [UN/New York], May 25, 2007)

This tells us a great deal about Khartoum’s notion of “negotiations” with the rebel groups, and works to explain the deep distrust on the part of rebel negotiators. 2007: A grim genocide by attrition had settled over Darfur by 2007, with a profoundly debilitating effect on more than 2 million displaced persons. Insecurity increased rapidly, beginning an extended process of retrenchment by humanitarian organizations and an attenuation of overall capacity.

Approximately 75 aerial attacks on civilians were reliably reported, again the majority in North Darfur, where rebel military resistance was concentrated after the breakdown of the DPA the previous year. There were approximately 400 known casualties. Helicopter gunships were used frequently, and coupled with Antonov bombings, contributed to large-scale human displacement. But we gain a sense of how many aerial attacks have gone individually unreported from the document released by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur in April 2007—and a sense as well of Khartoum’s response when presented with overwhelming evidence of its attacks:

On a map of Darfur, the [UN Panel of Experts for Darfur report] showed over 100 black dots where it said incidents of ‘aerial bombardment’ had taken place between October [2006] and January [2007]. Asked who else but the government could be responsible for the bombings, [Khartoum’s UN ambassador] Abdelhaleem said: “These are big lies, big lies.” He accused the [UN Panel of Experts for Darfur] of including the map “to make some people in this area happy.” ‘They want to hear this music—that Sudan did that, the government did that, they bombed here, they killed there. This is the music that is very much enjoyed by some people here,” Abdelhaleem said. (Associated Press [UN/New York], April 20, 2007)

2007 was also the year in which attacks on humanitarians began a sharp increase, with a corresponding decline in the number of humanitarians working in Darfur. Associated Press provided in late September a grim overview ([Nyala, South Darfur], September 27, 2007)

Attacks on humanitarian workers in Darfur rose 150 percent from June 2006 to June 2007, the UN says. This calendar year alone, more than 100 aid workers were kidnapped and 66 assaulted or raped, while over 60 aid convoys were ambushed and 100 vehicles hijacked, the UN says. The pace of attacks appears to be picking up throughout Darfur. Since last week, a dozen cars carrying aid workers have been ambushed and their passengers robbed, three aid workers were kidnapped, and a half-ton of food was looted in a refugee camp, the United Nations says.

But civilians remained the primary targets of air attacks, as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in its Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 28 (representing conditions as of July 1, 2007):

The Government of Sudan military attacks with support from their [Arab militia] proxies against non-signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement have continued. Of particular concern were the reports of renewed air attacks on villages in the Dar Zaghawa area, North Darfur. The latest bombings have left civilians in the region highly traumatized. Many told the UN that “the biggest threat [to their lives and livelihoods] now comes from the air.” Families have fled their homes and are living in the surrounding hills and wadis, without adequate shelter and water supplies. The risk of air attacks has also caused the closure of health posts and schools. Women collect water only at night, fearing targeted day-time aerial raids on water points.

Amnesty International reported in much the same vein:

Aerial attacks by the Government of Sudan on civilians in Darfur continue, with the UN reporting air attacks in North Darfur at the end of June [2007]. Thousands of displaced villagers have fled the Jebel Moon/Sirba area in West Darfur after renewed attacks on areas under control of armed opposition groups by government of Sudan forces supported by Janjawid. Local people said that helicopters brought in arms to the government and Janjawid forces. In South Darfur a Sudanese government Antonov aircraft carried out bombing raids following a 2 August [2007] attack by the opposition Justice and Equality Movement on the town of Adila, targeting villages and water points. Since then there have been a number of Sudanese government Antonov bombing raids on Ta’alba, near the town of Adila, and on 13 August [2007] the villages of Habib Suleiman and Fataha were bombed.” (Amnesty International, August 24, 2007, News Service No. 161)

As was the case in South Sudan, some aerial attacks were egregious in their deliberate targeting of civilians at close range from helicopter gunships. Here the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports on several attacks, including the school in Um Rai (Kutum Locality, North Darfur):

On 11 May, [2007] the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that it received reports on a series of aerial bombardments in North Darfur, carried out by the Government forces between 19 and 29 April [2007]. According to the OHCHR, the bombardments appear to have been indiscriminate and disproportionate. “Failing to distinguish between military and civilian objectives and the disproportionate use of force constitute violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,” the OHCHR said.

According to OHCHR, the attacks were reportedly carried out with helicopter gunships and Antonov aircraft. They resulted in numerous civilian casualties and destruction of property, school buildings and livestock. In one incident cited by the UN Secretary-General in his statement dated 9 May [2007], the school in the village of Um Rai was struck by rockets fired from a Government helicopter

2008: January 1, 2008 marked the official deployment of the UN/African Union “hybrid” force (UNAMID), with its UN Chapter 7 authority and and explicit mandate to protect civilians and humanitarians. But the dire warnings about UANMID’s weaknesses and lack of ability to confront Khartoum’s forces were quickly justified. Revealingly, almost as if to signal its contempt for the international community, Khartoum continued throughout 2008 to paint a number of its military aircraft white, the color that is to be used exclusively by UN and humanitarian organizations. This highly dangerous tactic put legitimately white humanitarian and peacekeeping aircraft at risk, and a number of humanitarian and UNAMID aircraft were indeed shot at. This tactic of disguising its military aircraft, in the very midst of a flight area used by humanitarians and peacekeepers, had been going on for years and has been repeatedly reported by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur.

Khartoum also, from the very beginning, obstructed the movements of UNAMID, a practice that continues to the present, despite a Status of Forces Agreement—signed by the regime in early 2008—that guarantees the UN-authorized force complete freedom of movement. The number of confirmed aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians also increased significantly in 2008: approximately 90 aerial assaults caused more than 300 known casualties. Attacks were especially intense in the opening months of the year, following an ill-advised offensive by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in West Darfur in late 2007. Extremely heavy bombing was reported north of El Geneina (in Kulbus Locality) in February, and continued through April. The campaign was of the same character as the worst atrocities from 2003 – 2004. Human Rights Watch declared at the time:

The government [of Sudan] and allied militias have responded [to JEM control of these towns] by indiscriminately attacking villages without distinguishing between the civilian population and rebel combatants, in violation of international humanitarian law

The attacks were carried out by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese ground troops, supported by attack helicopters and aerial bombardments. “The Sudanese government is once again showing its total disregard for the safety of civilians,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This return to large-scale attacks on villages will be catastrophic for Darfur’s civilians, because they’re completely unprotected.” (Human Rights Watch press release [New York], February 10, 2008)

The scale of the human destruction and displacement during this especially brutal campaign was never fully established, and cannot be at this point. But contemporaneous accounts give us guidance in assessing the consequences of extensive, deliberate, and indiscriminate aerial assaults on Silea, Sirba, Abu Suruj, and other towns and villages north of El Genenia. There was no evidence of rebel presence in these towns at the time of attack, and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported (February 10, 2008):

Up to 12,000 “terrified” refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region have fled across the border to neighboring Chad after the latest air strikes by the Sudanese military and thousands more may be on their way. [ ] Most of the refugees so far are men, [UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux] said. But the arrivals are telling UNHCR that “thousands of women and children are on their way” to Chad, she added.

Caux said UNHCR was looking at ways to assist people still trapped in the three towns bombed by Sudan.

“Thousands of households have been directly affected by the bombings and attacks,’”she said.   (Associated Press [Geneva], February 10, 2008)

The extremely reliable Opheera McDoom of Reuters reported ([dateline: El Fasher], February 10, 2008) that Khartoum’s attacks “forced an estimated 200,000 from their homes.” Humanitarian estimates subsequently put the figure for newly displaced persons in the range of 50,000-60,000, but this was a very conservative estimate. Eyewitness accounts by civilians are horrific:

A refugee from Sileah told UNHCR that ground attacks by the Janjaweed militia, allegedly supported by Sudanese Antonov aircraft, nearly destroyed Abu Surouj and reportedly caused heavy damage to four camps for internally displaced people.

UNAMID received preliminary reports, “confirming that an estimated 200 casualties have resulted from the fighting, and the town of Abu Suruj, which is home to thousands of civilians, has been burned to the ground” (Associated Press [UN/New York], February 10, 2008).

Reuters reported on February 10, 2008:

A tribal leader from the area, Ibrahim el-Nur, told Reuters on Sunday he had names of some 44 killed in Sirba town alone. He was still waiting for initial figures from Abu Surouj. Witnesses say they saw nine people killed in Suleia. All three towns are in West Darfur near the border with Chad. Residents say the total death toll could be as high as 200 but they could not yet reach all the bodies. About 200,000 were forced to flee their homes as a result of the attacks. [The Government of] Sudan has banned international aid workers from the area in the past few months so reports are difficult to verify. (Reuters [El Fasher, North Darfur], February 10, 2008)

Heavy bombing attacks continued in Kulbus Locality in 2008, as well as in North Darfur, particularly Kutum and El Fasher localities. An attack on a water point (a common target because of its obvious attractiveness to civilians and livestock on the ground) near Um Sidir killed at least three and wounded 16. Heavy civilian casualties were reported in an Antonov attack on Jebel Adoula (El Fasher Locality). But overall, what is striking about the later incidents reported is how little was indicated of the civilian casualties, revealing UNAMID’s general paralysis and lack of investigative leadership. Most incidents in the data spreadsheet for this period simply have “unknown” for number of casualties.

2009: A wave of heavy bombing and aerial attacks occurred in January in the Muhajeriya and Shearia localities. Vast numbers of people from villages in these areas were displaced, many for the second or third time. The context again was an ill-advised Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) military strike, this time against Muhajeriya in South Darfur. The rebels controlled the town briefly, but soon abandoned it in light of highly predictable military retaliation by the SAF. Before JEM left, however, many thousands of those who fled from their villages approached Muhajeriya for the safety nominally provided by the UNAMID force there. There ensued virtually daily indiscriminate aerial assaults on Muhajeriya and the surrounding areas, all confirmed by the UN. 2009 was also the year in which UNAMID attempted to declare premature victory and an end to major fighting.

In words that would quickly became controversial, outgoing UNAMID military commander Martin Agwai declared in August 2009 that “as of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur,” but rather “very low intensity” engagements. These words were anticipated by those of the departing UN/AU special representative to UNAMID, Rodolphe Adada: “There is no more fighting proper on the ground.” “Right now there is no high-intensity conflict in Darfur…. Call it what you will but this is what is happening in Darfur—a lot of banditry, carjacking, attacks on houses.” What went unmentioned by Agwai and Adada, who were in effect ignoring a great deal of continuing violence and catastrophic displacement, were the consequences of a powerless UNAMID force.

At the time they announced “victory,” Agwai and Adada had presided over the displacement of approximately 450,000 civilians (over 300,000 in 2008 alone, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). At present—and UNAMID has almost completely deployed as of April 2011—as many as 900,000 people have been newly displaced since this force officially took up its mandate on January 1, 2008. The notion that UNAMID has worked to fulfill any but the barest security functions is simply not true. Indeed, the claims about Darfur by Adada and Agwai are more striking for the critical information and news they omit than any accomplishment actually specified.

Early in the year, on March 4 and 5, the Khartoum regime had expelled 13 of the world’s most distinguished international humanitarian organizations, as well as closing down three key Sudanese national nongovernmental organizations. This represented roughly half the total humanitarian capacity in Darfur. Despite subsequent claims from U.S. Senator John Kerry and U.S. special envoy Scott Gration that the enormous shortcomings in capacity had largely been filled, this was certainly not what humanitarians or UN aid officials were saying. Publicly and privately officials expressed their deep fears following the expulsions; this was certainly true many months later when it had become clear that humanitarian capacity could not in fact be recovered. But a deep fear settled over the remaining humanitarian community—a fear that had been amply justified by the untenable levels of insecurity that had prevailed even before the expulsions.

The hostility of the regime to all humanitarian operations was clear; and there would be subsequent expulsions—notably in summer 2010—that again had nothing to do with the factitious charges made by Khartoum (typically “espionage”). Humanitarian workers had been reticent before the expulsions; afterwards they were nearly all completely silenced, even in speaking off the record. This ensured that the international eyes and ears that had been such an important reporting presence since July 2004 were no longer able to communicate adequately. Coupled with the severe curtailing of UNAMID’s freedom of movement—in contravention of the Status of Forces Agreement (February 2008)—there was very little reporting presence. Journalists seeking access found that it had become nearly impossible, and certainly no freedom of movement or unobserved conversations with Darfuris were possible.

There were fewer bombing reports in 2009 (75) than in 2008, but the pace of attacks again increased in 2010. Strikingly, there were only a dozen more reports for 2009 following the March expulsions, strongly suggesting greatly increased self-censorship and lack of human rights monitoring.

2010: There were approximately 90 aerial assaults reported in 2010. Notably, Human Rights Watch had re-established a reliable reporting network within Darfur and was again able to chronicle these attacks, even from the embattled and isolated Jebel Marra region in the center of Darfur. The aerial attacks in 2010 were concentrated in Jebel Marra, especially the eastern part of the region, as well as in the geographically adjoining areas of West and South Darfur (e.g., Deribat). Kulbus in West Darfur was also heavily attacked from the air during the year. Jebel Marra is the last stronghold of the rebel forces loyal to Abdel Wahid el Nur, who continues to enjoy significant support among the Fur population. This is so despite his failure to find the diplomatic means to provide the security he demands, paradoxically, as a precondition for negotiations.

In December 2010, the defection of Minni Minawi from his figurehead position within the Khartoum regime set in motion extremely violent military conflict between those rebel forces still loyal to Minawi and the SAF, along with its aerial military allies. Minawi was the only signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006; he is himself Zaghawa, as are most of his forces (Zaghawa are a non-Arab or African tribal group). This fact has sparked renewed ethnic targeting of civilians, especially Zaghawa, in the general area of Khor Abeche (Shearia Locality, South Darfur), Shangil Tobaya (North Darfur), and northward to Tabit; many reports from Radio Dabanga, confidential sources on the ground, and especially recent analyses from the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies make a strong case that the violence has resumed its genocidal character (see especially ACJPS: “Rendered Invisible: Darfur Deteriorates as International Pressure Shifts to the Referendum Process,” February 2011).

Antonovs, helicopter gunships, and jet aircraft have been heavily involved in the fighting—and completely indiscriminate in their attacks. This has produced a vast new population of displaced—32,000 in just three weeks in December 2010, according to UN figures. As the stream of displaced persons continues, some locations are completely overwhelmed. Radio Dabanga reports that Zamzam camp outside El Fasher (and fairly close to the areas affected) now has a population of more than 200,000—far beyond the camp’s humanitarian capacity. The breakdown in security—engineered by Khartoum over many years, even if by a process not fully under its control—has deeply compromised many humanitarian operations, especially oversight and assessment. There are almost no expatriate workers in the “deep field.”

As aerial attacks continue, as populations are deliberately terrorized, the humanitarian situation will become even more desperate. Violence directed against the camps for displaced persons—by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces—has increased dramatically in recent months, and there is an increasing likelihood that there will be disorganized and unsupervised flights from many of the camps, especially if food supplies run low. (In March 2011 Catholic Relief Services—the sole distributor of food rations to distressed populations in West Darfur—was on the brink of withdrawing from the region, with no replacement capacity available; more than 400,000 people depend on CRS for food, and yet the organization, which had been forced to suspend operations and food distributions in January 2011, was within a hair’s breadth of withdrawal because of Khartoum’s harassment, obstruction, and threats.)

2011: Bombing and aerial attacks against civilians have been very heavy so far in 2011, especially in North Darfur. Some 30 attacks were recorded for January alone, and more than 80 through the end of April 2011; the number of known casualties is well over 100. The civilian destruction is being reported by Radio Dabanga, now the primary source of information about all forms of human rights abuses and violations of international law in Darfur. Radio Dabanga remains in touch with many Darfuris through a sophisticated technical and communications network, and draws on the observations of a great many native “reporters.” Training by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (The Hague) has greatly increased the usefulness, professionalism, and accuracy standards of Radio Dabanga. The largest effect has been to give a very human reality to numbers and dispatches that too often seem abstract and bloodless:

•Air strike in Darfur kills 10, including 5 children

“A government aircraft on Sunday conducted an air raid in Darfur that killed 10 people, including at least five children, and wounded many more. The attack occurred in the area of Abu Deimat, south of Khazan Jadeed in South Darfur. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the raid took place at 02:00am in the morning. Among the dead was the farmer Hamada Abdelrahman Dualbeit, 30 years of old, and with his wife and his three sons and Muriam Ismail Abakr, student at the University of Nyala, in addition to her son, and Nasreddin Ahmed Bushara, and his wife and baby.” (Radio Dabanga, KHAZAN JADEED, December 28, 2010)

These dispatches also give a sense of how the population as a whole is affected by specific bombing attacks:

•Almost daily Antonov flights in Khor Abeche region

“Refugees in the area of Khor Abeche, South Darfur, said the region has been relatively calm, but expressed fear of renewed fighting cautious due to the almost daily flights of Antonov aircraft in the region’s skies. The displaced persons said they also fear the spread of diseases due to lack of food rations and the deteriorating health environment and crowding of 12,000 people. The refugees further said that the recent events in the area led to the displacement of more than 1,200 pupils from the basic school and the burning of at least 60 houses and property, which resulted in the destruction of all the citizens’ savings and food, in addition to 300 head of cattle.” (KHOR ABECHE, January 22, 2011)

•Fighting, air strikes in Darfur rebel zone force thousands to flee

“Heavy fighting erupted between government forces and the movement of Abdel Wahid on Saturday and Sunday in Rokero Locality, northeast of Jebel Marra. Nimr Abdelrahman, military spokesman of the rebel movement, announced to Radio Dabanga that the government forces bombed the area, which led to the displacement of more than 7,000 citizens of that region. He said that the SLA forces won the battle. The air strikes on areas of northeast of Jebel Marra in Rokero on Saturday led to the abandonment of eight villages. Witnesses said that a number of people were wounded in the air raids on the village. They were taken to the hospital at Kagora. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the air strikes began after a large force of infantry from the Sudanese army battled Abdel Wahid’s forces in those areas. The government aircraft appeared to be bombing at random in the region from 7:00am until 6:00pm on Saturday. The bombardment targeted the villages Awsajank, Bargu, Gamra, Bola, Kuju, Koja, Tago, and Neiri.” (ROKERO, January 31, 2011)

•Air strikes west of Shangil Tobaya, Darfur cause thousands to flee

“Two attacking Antonov bombers and invading ground forces yesterday caused thousands to flee to the hills and valleys around North Darfur villages. More than 4 thousand people yesterday fled from the region of Abu Hamra, west of Shangil Tobaya in North Darfur. The ground forces consisted of more than 20 vehicles and local militias, according to one villager who fled from the region. He told Radio Dabanga that two Antonovs dropped a number of bombs on the region before the entry of government forces and local militias from the area Um Dereisaya. The source pointed out that a number of shells fell near a school during school hours.” (SHANGIL TOBAYA, February 24, 2011)

And the bombings are simply relentless in their civilian destruction:

•  Bombing east of Jebel Marra kills 3 women, 2 children

Government warplanes killed three women and two children in central Darfur yesterday and Wednesday, according to an official in a rebel movement present in the area. A large number of cattle also perished in the air strikes in the area of East Jebel. Mohamed Ahmed Yagub, Secretary of Humanitarian Affairs of the Liberation and Justice Movement, told Radio Dabanga that Antonov planes and helicopter gunships bombarded areas of East Jebel including the villages of Tokumarre, Massalit, Hashaba, Wadi Mora and Dali. The attacks killed three women, two children and a large number of livestock and camels, he said. The bombs also destroyed water sources and caused people in these villages to flee. He added that bombardment is still going on west of Shangil Tobaya and near Shaddad Camp. (EAST JEBEL, February 18, 2011)

•  4 days of airstrikes causes at least 1 death and destruction of schoolIn areas of North and West Darfur heavy airstrikes were witnessed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Besides many injuries, one woman was killed, and a school was destroyed. [ ] In different airstrikes on Saturday a woman was killed and three others were wounded, including a four-year-old female child when an Antonov aircrafts dropped bombs that hit Sebit Market in Hashaba, North of Kutum. Other eyewitnesses told Radio Dabanga that militias loyal to the government backed by air support attacked areas in the vicinity of Shangil Tobayi on Thursday. One of the witnesses confirmed to Radio Dabanga that government forces clashed with the forces of Mini Minawi near Abu Zuriyqa and that the sounds of heavy weapons and explosions along with the continuing airstrikes caused panic amongst many citizens.” (EL FASHER, April 4, 2011)

Conclusion: These criminal aerial assaults define daily life for the people of Darfur. The attacks are a key weapon in Khartoum’s attempt to move, manipulate, terrify, and destroy civilian populations—a fact of life for marginalized Sudanese people for more than twelve years now. The total number of confirmed attacks in the following data archive is more than 1,400. Given the criteria for confirmation and inclusion in the database, these attacks are all war crimes—and in aggregate certainly come with the legal ambit of “crimes against humanity.” Those responsible for these crimes must be held accountable. But we cannot forget that those who have suffered and perished are the victims not just of Khartoum’s brutality but our own indifference and expediency. We have no right to receive forgiveness; they have every right to expect justice.