New Report and Satellite Images Demonstrate “Scorched Earth” Tactics Against Civilians in Blue Nile, Sudan

By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response

Amnesty International’s new report, ‘We had no time to bury them’ – War crimes in Sudan’s Blue Nile State documents in grave detail what is unmistakably a pattern of systematic, deadly and deliberate attacks against civilian populations in Blue Nile, Sudan, a region that has been locked in crisis and conflict since 2011.

Since 2011, over 150,000 people from Blue Nile state alone, have fled across the border to languish in refugee camps in Ethiopia and South Sudan, with tens of thousands internally-displaced within Sudan itself.

“My brother couldn’t walk because one of his legs had been broken a long time ago…I was in the mountain when the soldiers came…Mereh could only crawl – he tried to crawl away but the flames caught him and he burned…The bodies of these two old people were left in the village. We had no time to bury them.” – Survivor of attack on Qabanit village

The Sudanese government claims it is fighting an armed rebellion by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), but sadly, and not shockingly, satellite analysis commissioned by Amnesty International and witness testimony tells a very different story. Imagery collected between 2011 and 2013, corroborating survivor testimony, demonstrates the Sudanese Armed Forces’ (SAF) deliberate targeting of civilians – in the first half of 2012, the Sudanese government executed a scorched earth campaign coupled with denial of humanitarian access and aid, in a concerted effort to completely clear SPLA-N-held areas of Blue Nile of their population – opposition, civilian or otherwise.

The widespread nature of these attacks is captured in these satellite images; village after village are bombed and attacked, with nearly all homes, mosques and schools are burned and destroyed. Men, women and children are literally forced to run for the hills, those who can’t make it – the young and the old, disproportionately – are burned alive in their homes or shot dead. The SAF’s signature tactic in Blue Nile state (and other armed conflicts in Sudan, including the current conflict in Southern Kordofan state) of conducting indiscriminate aerial bombardments using low-flying Antonov planes carrying unguided bombs that cannot be targeted, has been well documented as a violation of international humanitarian law.

“When I heard the sound of the Antonov I yelled to my children to lie down on the ground,” said Yusuf Fadil Muhammed [father of Dahia Yusuf Muhammad, age eight]. “[The Antonov] dropped a bomb, and I heard my wife cry out, ‘my child,’ ‘my child,’ ‘my child.’ The plane circled back and dropped two more bombs….”

These actions constitute war crimes which, given their widespread and systematic natures, may amount to crimes against humanity.

The resemblance to Darfur cannot be ignored – the use of these very tactics is what led the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – where outstanding arrest warrants call for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and others to face charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Yet, Omar al-Bashir (and other high-ranking Sudanese officials) not only remains comfortably at large, but continues to receive red-carpet treatment from a number of countries, including Chad, China, Iran, among others. Our coalition partners at BashirWatch have mapped out the countries who have hosted Bashir, along with those who have rescinded their invitations as a result of international outcry and grassroots pressure. The failure to date of justice for the crimes in Darfur are one of the contributing factors to the war crimes and likely crimes against humanity documented in ‘We Had No Time to Bury Them’.

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