17 April 2013

Sudan: Bombings Worsen Humanitarian Crisis in S. Kordofan - Report

Photo: Human Rights Watch
Displaced people on Al-Labu Umduwal mountain, Southern Kordofan (file photo).

Khartoum — Sudan's indiscriminate bombing of South Kordofan state is fuelling a humanitarian catastrophe in the restive region, disrupting crop production and sparking food shortages and massive displacement, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

A new report released by the organisation highlights the plight of civilians living in areas controlled by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), with the situation expected to worsen in coming weeks as food supplies dwindle and the impending rainy season cuts off roads and relief efforts.

The human rights group has called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) and African Union (AU) to take immediate action to halt bomb attacks and boost humanitarian relief efforts.

"The international community continues to watch this catastrophe unfold as the humanitarian situation worsens in conflict-affected areas of Southern Kordofan. It's time for some concerted action," said Khairunissa Dhala, Amnesty International's South Sudan researcher.

"Indiscriminate attacks must immediately cease and the international community must bring pressure to bear on the Sudanese authorities to grant immediate and unhindered humanitarian access," she added.

The Sudanese government recently agreed to hold direct talks with the SPLM-N aimed at ending the almost two-year-long conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, which erupted around the same time the South seceded from the north in July 2011 under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.

According to the report titled Sudan: Civilians caught in unending crisis in Southern Kordofan, bombings by Sudanese troops have severely disrupted daily activities such as farming and education.

It calls for an independent inquiry into the alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, including the Sudanese government and the SPLM-N.

Khadija Al'hamr, an elderly woman from Um Serdiba in South Kordofan, described to Amnesty in horrific detail the shocking aftermath of a bomb attack near her home which killed her neighbour Naima Kuku, and Naima's granddaughter Amal.

"Naima Kuku was cut into pieces. I picked up her parts to bury. Amal was cut into two and was pregnant ... We cannot endure this anymore. It has to end. Stop the planes," she said.

The report documents a series of bombings by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) carried out during key planting and harvesting periods which have caused severe damage to people's livelihoods.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the majority of internally displaced people are likely to face crisis levels of food security within weeks.

While schooling is still possible, lessons are held in open spaces, so that teachers and pupils can readily flee to safety in nearby foxholes and caves in the event of an attack. The fighting has also disrupted access to healthcare and clean water.

The escalation in violence has also caused a massive influx of refugees across the border to South Sudan, with more than 70,000 people fleeing to Yida camp in Unity state.

The UN anticipates that the camp population will swell to 100,000 by May, posing a number of challenges, including the provision of adequate services.

Amnesty also says it has serious concerns about the health of a number of women detained because of their alleged affiliation with the SPLM-N. The group of 32 have been held incommunicado without charge or access to a lawyer for over five months.

"Nearly two years on, the conflict in Southern Kordofan and the humanitarian crisis that it has brought, are severely undermining people's basic human rights," said Dhala.

"The Sudanese authorities are harassing, arresting and detaining a number of people who are speaking out about the situation inside Sudan," she added.

Khartoum has long accused Juba of backing SPLM-N rebels, which fought alongside Southern fighters during their struggle for independence, but were left on the Sudanese side of the border following separation.

Last August, Sudan and the SPLM-N signed a humanitarian agreement based on a proposal put forward by the UN, AU and Arab League, but both failed to implement it due to disagreements over food distribution, with the government of Sudan continuing to block humanitarian access to rebel-held areas in South Kordofan.

A report released earlier this month by US-based rights group the Enough Project in conjunction with the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) said there was "compelling evidence" that the Sudanese government had committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The report recommends referring the situation in the two states to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further investigation.

Its dossier, compiled over a two-year period, consists of eyewitness reports, photos, videos and satellite imagery, suggesting the government was mimicking previous tactics used in Darfur, for which president Omer al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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