By: Farnaz Alimehri, Columnist
Photo Credit: Amnesty International
In the past decade, there has been a disturbing increase in the use of chemical weapons by states and non-state actors alike. While the international community and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have been prompt to act and condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq, one of the most alarming accusations of use by a state continues to go uninvestigated. Last year on September 29, 2016, Amnesty International released a report detailing the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra, a range of volcanic peaks in a massif at the center of Darfur.[i] The report contained detailed evidence of at least 30 chemical attacks that were likely orchestrated by the Sudanese government, yet the United Nations and the OPCW have still not sent in investigators to find out what really happened.[ii]
What are the accusations?
The report explains that aerial bombardments and rockets targeted civilians indiscriminately in the Jebel Marra region, exposing villagers to a dark blue smoke that “smelled like rotten eggs,” and coated the landscape in a thick black dust.[iii] Victims who were exposed to the smoke said, “their skin turned white and became rotten or hardened and fell off in chunks.”[iv] Some also developed other symptoms such as bloody vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and loss of vision.[v] The chemicals used were likely blister agents, such as vesicants, but symptoms indicate that vomiting agents may have also been used.[vi] Amnesty international gathered evidence remotely using satellite imagery, more than 200 in-depth interviews, and expert analysis for the report.[vii] The government is not allowing any reporters or international investigators into the region, explaining that the attacks are just “rumors.”[viii]
Even though Sudan has signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits the use, possession, and development of chemical weapons, this is not the only time chemical weapons have been allegedly used by the Sudanese government. In October 2016, the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported chemical weapons use by the Khartoum regime in the Nuba Mountains.[ix] On September 15, 2004 there were reports that the Khartoum regime used chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur.[x] Minister of State of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Mr. Nageeb E. Abdelwahab, categorically denied the allegations in an official statement to the OPCW.[xi] In 2000, Doctors Without Borders identified that cluster bombs and bombs with “chemical contents” were used during Khartoum’s bombing of civilian hospitals in Equatoria, now South Sudan.[xii] Reports as early as 1995 also indicate that the Sudanese Armed Forces may have used mustard gas canisters against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army on at least two separate occasions.[xiii]
How did they get the weapons?
According to the United States House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz requested and was granted permission from Sudan’s President Umar al-Bashir to move Iraqi chemical weapons to Sudan in March/April 1991.[xiv] The move was orchestrated in order to prevent the destruction of Iraq’s chemical weapons during inspections conducted by the United Nations in the summer of 1991.[xv] Iraq agreed to provide Sudan with financial assistance in exchange for allowing it to move and subsequently develop/test basic CW agents in the country.[xvi]
An unclassified CIA report from 2001 stated that Sudan had been developing the capability to produce chemical weapons for many years, seeking older, less expensive capabilities that would comparatively be more advanced than its neighboring opponents’ weapons systems.[xvii] After years of collaboration with Iraq, Sudan must have developed a rudimentary chemical weapons capability. In November 1997, the country formally threatened Uganda with chemical strikes if it continued to support Southern rebels in what is now South Sudan.[xviii] The following year, the United States bombed the pharmaceutical factory, Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries, after soil samples revealed the presence of ethyl methylphosphonothinonate, which has no industrial use, and is a precursor chemical for the nerve agent VX.[xix] This was not the only facility that was believed to be used for chemical weapons production, but rather the one for which the United States had the most incriminating evidence.[xx]
Sudan Needs to be Investigated
The evidence presented by the Amnesty International report and the government of Sudan’s checkered past illustrate many possible violations of international law. Article IX of the CWC allows for on-site inspections of alleged violations by a member state—the request is made by another state party to the convention and can only be denied if three-quarters of the Executive Council votes to overrule the challenge.[xxi] There is more than enough proof to substantiate a challenge inspection by the OPCW in Sudan, yet states’ parties have remained silent. Member states of the OPCW should organize and pursue a challenge inspection in Sudan, if not for the people of Darfur, but for the sake of the treaty and OPCW, which risks losing its credibility after failing to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons in 2014.[xxii]
The United Nations and the African Union have already committed themselves to protecting the civilians in Darfur through their hybrid operation. Yet, the Sudanese government has refused to grant the mission access to affected areas, even though it is the mission’s mandate to have full and unrestricted movement throughout Darfur to provide protection and humanitarian aid.[xxiii] Victims of the alleged attacks have no medical supplies to treat their wounds, and are using a combination of salt, limes, and local herbs to treat chemical burns.[xxiv] The African Union and the United Nations must pressure the Sudanese government to allow them to treat those affected by the attacks, and investigate the reports coming from the civilians in Jebel Marra. Darfur has been at war for 14 years, and nearly three million people have been displaced since the conflict began—the time to act is past due.
[i] “Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur,” Amnesty International, 29 September 2016, http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/scorched-earth-poisoned-air-sudanese-government-forces-ravage-jebel-marra-darfur.
[ii] Eric Reeves, “Chemical Weapons Use in Darfur: The World Walks Away,” Huffington Post, accessed 11 April 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-reeves/chemical-weapons-use-in-d_b_12545798.html.
[iii] Briana Duggan, “Amnesty Says Sudan Used Deadly Chemical Weapons in Darfur Conflict,” CNN, 29 September 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/29/africa/sudan-chemical-weapon-darfur/.
[vi] “Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur,” Amnesty International, 29 September 2016, http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/scorched-earth-poisoned-air-sudanese-government-forces-ravage-jebel-marra-darfur.
[viii] Briana Duggan, “Amnesty Says Sudan Used Deadly Chemical Weapons in Darfur Conflict,” CNN, 29 September 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/29/africa/sudan-chemical-weapon-darfur/.
[ix] Eric Reeves, “Chemical Weapons Use in Darfur: The World Walks Away,” Huffington Post, accessed 11 April 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-reeves/chemical-weapons-use-in-d_b_12545798.html.
[x] “Sudan’s Official Position Regarding Allegations of Use of Chemical Weapons in Darfur Region,” Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 08 October 2004, https://www.opcw.org/news/article/sudans-official-position-regarding-allegations-of-use-of-chemical-weapons-in-the-darfur-region/.
[xii] “’Living Under Aerial Bombardments’: Report of an Investigation in the Province of Equatoria, Southern Sudan,” Médecins Sans Frontières, 20 February 2000, http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/living-under-aerial-bombardments-report-investigation-province-equatoria-southern-sudan.
[xvi] Jane Perlez, “After the Attacks: The Connection; Iraqi Deal with Sudan On Nerve Gas Is Reported,” The New York Times, 26 August 1998, http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/26/world/after-the-attacks-the-connection-iraqi-deal-with-sudan-on-nerve-gas-is-reported.html.
[xvii] “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions,” Central Intelligence Agency, 1 January through 30 June 2001, https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/archived-reports-1/jan_jun2001.htm#8.
[xix] Jane Perlez, “After the Attacks: The Connection; Iraqi Deal with Sudan On Nerve Gas Is Reported,” The New York Times, 26 August 1998, http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/26/world/after-the-attacks-the-connection-iraqi-deal-with-sudan-on-nerve-gas-is-reported.html.
[xxi] Jonathan Loeb, “Did Sudan Use Chemical Weapons in Darfur Last Year?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 17 January 2017, http://thebulletin.org/did-sudan-use-chemical-weapons-darfur-last-year10402.
[xxii] Bassem Mroue and Philip Issa, “Turkey: Autopsies Show Sarin Gas Used in Syria Chemical Attacks,” Chicago Tribune, 11 April 2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-syria-chemical-attack-sarin-gas-20170411-story.html.
[xxiii] Jonathan Loeb, “Did Sudan Use Chemical Weapons in Darfur Last Year?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 17 January 2017, http://thebulletin.org/did-sudan-use-chemical-weapons-darfur-last-year10402.
[xxiv] “Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur,” Amnesty International, 29 September 2016, http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/scorched-earth-poisoned-air-sudanese-government-forces-ravage-jebel-marra-darfur.