Human Rights Flashpoints–September 9, 2009

Sudan – Deadly Attacks in the South
Recent ethnic clashes in southern Sudan have killed at least 25 people and displaced dozens of civilians in Upper Nile State since Friday. Violence has been escalating recently, as women and children are increasingly targeted by both tribal militias and the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned today that conflict-affected areas of southern Sudan, including Ezo County in Western Equatoria State where the LRA has been active recently, are facing a high risk of epidemics. WHO cites damaged health facilities, displaced health workers and the difficulty of accessing health facilities as contributing factors to this increasing risk for epidemics. Attacks in recent weeks have caused forced around 80,000 people to flee their homes.

In a separate development, Reuters reports that the NGO Global Witness claims that they have found serious discrepancies in reports of Sudan’s oil revenues, meaning that the Sudanese government may been underpaying the south by hundreds of millions of dollars.  However, government officials denied all accusations made in the report and claimed to the BCC that the south was represented in all state bodies that dealt with oil.

Must Reads

Overheard

The violent clashes are different to the traditional  ‘cattle rustling’ that normally occurs each year. Women and children, usually spared in this fighting, are now deliberately targeted and the number of deaths are higher than the number of wounded… The intention is to attack a village and to kill. The result is a population living in total fear, with significant humanitarian and medical needs – Jonathan Whittall, MSF Head of Mission in southern Sudan, September 3, 2009.

Abatement of violence and intertribal reconciliation in the south are vital to the forthcoming elections in 2010 and the subsequent referendum in 2011 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, September 6, 2009.  

Yemen – No End to the Violence
Clashes between government troops and rebel groups in Northern Yemen are ongoing and putting the lives of many civilians at risk. Displaced people in and around the city of Saada are trapped in the war zone, unable to leave and without access to humanitarian aid. Those who are able to leave the area have no choice but to use mined roads.

According to the BBC, a truce between the government and rebels which was agreed to on Friday, primarily to allow civilians to flee from the war zone, collapsed just a few hours later. Both sides blame the other for the continuing violence.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is waiting for security clearances in order to open a humanitarian corridor that would allow them to gain access through Saudi Arabia to displaced people in need of tents and other aid. The UN estimates that about 35,000 have been displaced by the fighting in the past three weeks alone.

Must Reads

Overheard

Heavy fighting between Al Houthi forces and government troops in and around Saada city in northern Yemen continues with utter disregard for the safety and well being of the civilian population – Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the UNHCR, September 8, 2009 

The children of Yemen need urgent assistance. We cannot fail them – Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, September 8, 2009

Coming Up

  • September 7-8: Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Kinshasa, DRC.
  • September 8: Amnesty International releases new briefing on Chad, which uses satellite images to document housing demolitions in N’Djamena. 
  • September 8: Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya meets with members of the OAS in Washington, DC.
  • September 8: Head of UNHCR begins five-day trip to North Africa to visit refugees from Western Sahara.
  • September 8: Inauguration of President-elect Malam Bacai Sanha in Guinea Bissau.
  • September 10: Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders due to resume UN-sponsored peace talks.
  • Week of September 14: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
  • September 15: 64th session of the UN General Assembly opens.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.

A Bloodstained Wall Full of Flechettes

(Originally posted on Livewire)

Monday January 26: The Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza has captured much of the world’s media interest. However, the Israeli forces also used a variety of other weapons against civilian residential built-up areas throughout the Gaza Strip in the three-week conflict that began on 27 December.

Among these are flechettes – tiny metal darts (4cm long, sharply pointed at the front and with four fins at the rear) that are packed into120mm shells. These shells, generally fired from tanks, explode in the air and scatter some 5,000 to 8,000 flechettes in a conical pattern over an area around 300 metres wide and 100 metres long.

Flechettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and to strike a large number of enemy soldiers. They should never be used in built-up civilian areas.

The Israeli Army has used flechettes in Gaza periodically for several years. In most reported cases, their use has resulted in civilians being killed or injured. The last reported case was in April 2008, when Israeli soldiers fired a flechette shell at Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana while he was filming in Gaza, killing him.

He was filming the tank at the time and caught its firing of the flechette shell on camera in the split second before he was killed. Other civilians, including children, were killed and injured by the same flechette shell.

The Israeli Army said later that it had investigated the incident and concluded that its troops’ actions were justified – although the film footage of the incident showed clearly shows that Fadel Shana and others who were killed and injured were posing no threat to the soldiers in the tank when they fired the flechette shell, or to anyone else.

We first heard about the use of flechettes in the conflict that began on 27 December some 10 days ago. The father of one of the victims showed us a flechette that had been taken out of his son’s body.

Then, when we went to a Bedouin village in north Gaza, we saw several flechettes embedded in the walls of houses and residents told us that the street had been littered with them after the attack. Today, we found more hard evidence of their use in two other villages.

In ‘Izbat Beit Hanoun, to the south-west of the town of Beit Hanoun, several flechette shells were fired into the main road, killing two people and injuring several others on the morning of 5 January. Wafa’ Nabil Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old pregnant mother of two, was one of those killed.

Her husband and her mother-in-law told us that the family had just had breakfast and were outside the house drinking tea in the sun. Wafa’ and her husband were standing by the corner of the house when they heard a noise, followed by screams.

They turned to go back into their house, but, at that moment, Wafa’ and several other members of the family were hit by flechettes. Wafa’ was killed outright. Her two-year-old son, who was in the house, was struck by a flechette which became embedded in his right knee.

Wafa’s husband, Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad, and his father were both injured in the back and other parts of the body. One of the flechettes that hit Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad is still lodged in his back, close to his spinal cord. It was clearly visible in an X-ray that he showed to us. Doctors have not attempted to remove it as they fear that he could be left paralyzed.

At the other end of the same street, we visited the house of 16-year-old Islam Jaber Abd-al-Dayem, who was hit on the same day by a flechette that struck him in the neck. He was taken to the hospital’s ICU (intensive care unit) but died three days later.

Mizar, his brother, was injured in the same attack and still has a flechette lodged in his back. We found flechettes embedded in the walls of these and several other houses nearby – the tiny darts explode out of their shell with such force that sometimes only the fins at the back are left sticking out when they become embedded in walls.

In the village of al-Mughraqa, a few kilometres south of Gaza City, dozens of houses were destroyed or damaged by Israeli bombardments and shelling. Most residents of the area fled from their homes when the Israeli ground incursion began on 3 January. But some did not, with tragic consequences.

They included Atta Hassan Aref Azzam, who feared that if he left his home it would be destroyed. He decided to stay. He and his family remained inside their house because there was frequent shelling and shooting in the area, only going out to fetch water.

At 8.30 am on 7 January, a shell struck the room in which Atta Azzam was sitting with two of his children, Mohammed, aged 13, and Hassan, aged two and a half, killing all three of them. The six other members of the family who were in the house fled to the nearest school for shelter. When we examined the bloodstained wall by which the three were killed, we saw that it was full of flechettes.

– Originally posted to Livewire by Donatella Rovera, Middle East & North Africa Researcher at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London