Are Chemical Weapons Being Used Against The Nuba Mountains?

Posted by Mark Hackett on January 20th, 2015

Over the past few weeks, the government of Sudan's military campaign against the Nuba Mountains has drastically escalated as the Sudan Armed Forces and Rapid Response Forces, both under the command of the government, have advanced dangerously close to Kauda. This strategic city acts as the Nuba stronghold of those fighting to survive the government's campaign of extermination that is now reaching into a devastating fourth year. The government's goal of seizing Kauda is two-fold and disturbingly clear: deliver a massive psychological blow to the Nuba people and exterminate or run off the remaining population in this area of the Nuba Mountains. 

Accompanied by this specific strike towards Kauda is a vicious and rapidly expanding aerial bombing campaign against anything resembling life in the Nuba Mountains. What little infrastructure that remains is being targeted on a daily basis. Most disturbing though is the government's obsessive focus on targeting civilian agriculture with both normal munitions, flammable agents, and possibly chemical agents that inflict incredible harm on both crops and people. 

These types of attacks are not new to the conflict, but the expanded intensity builds upon mounting evidence that the government's goal is to exterminate the Nuba people through a campaign of genocidal attrition. Basically, those communities the government cannot target with ground forces are being bombed daily with a specific focus on targeting food stores and crops. Food insecurity amongst a rapidly growing displaced population is soaring to shocking levels that go well beyond internationally-recognized emergency and disaster thresholds. 

Attacks such as these are truly disgusting, but what is even more disturbing is key leaders within the government of Sudan choosing to deal with the country's legitimate issues in this manner. A leaked Sudanese government security document that became public in October of 2014 puts government officials on record discussing use of such tactics to crush the Nuba people once and for all. Many international observers have been hesitant to use the term "genocide" with regards to the situation in the Nuba Mountains, but the growing amount of evidence that clearly defines both political and military preparations, planning, and the attacks themselves says that this is exactly the type of crime being committed against the Nuba people and their historic culture. 

Photo: A market burns after being bombed by Sudanese government warplanes. Provided by local journalists.

Chemical Weapons Usage In the Nuba Mountains

In our most recent documentary film, one of the interviewees our media team talked with discussed what sounds like a chemical weapons attack that he personally witnessed.

You can watch the interview here »

As we do not currently have access to the area this attack was carried out against, I want to be clear that we have no "hard" evidence that this specific attack took place. Hard evidence would be laboratory confirmation through a trustworthy chain of custody that clearly defined what agent was used, how it was delivered, and where the source of the attack came from. 

It is hard evidence like this that moves international actors to some form of action. As we saw in the case of Syria, the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians brought a new level of international engagement that witnessed Assad finally bowing to international pressure, even if it was a pretty minimal bow. Unsurprisingly, the use of chemical weapons is vehemently detested by a majority of the international community. But because the hard evidence is currently lacking in the case of the Nuba Mountains, it is unlikely the international community will engage on the issue there.

But that doesn't mean that these types of attacks are not happening. 

This is not the first eyewitness testimony to these types of attacks. I began hearing of such attacks as far back as June of 2012 when I interviewed survivors in Yida Refugee Camp, the primary place Nuba refugees have fled to after watching their livelihoods be destroyed by the government of Sudan. Many other outsiders have documented such testimony as well or even witnessed the aftermath of such attacks. Indeed, Khartoum's use of chemical of weapons has also been reported in Darfur in areas the UN has never accessed and in South Sudan as far back as 1999. 

There are common threads in many of these accounts: severe chemical burns, nausea, vomiting blood, birth defects or termination, cognitive impairment, and even death. Possible chemical attacks targeting crops have tainted and destroyed food. Ongoing symptoms such as these are common effects of many types of chemical agents, so it is virtually impossible to determine what agent was used from eyewitness testimony alone.

While the government's use of cluster bombs and fire bombs in the Nuba Mountains has been well-documented, there is still hard evidence missing to prove the use of chemical weapons. The government already uses cluster and fire bombs with great effectiveness because "acceptable" munitions have proven unable to crush the Nuba people. It would not be a stretch to see the government rely increasingly on chemical agents as well.

Photo: A destroyed village after being bombed by Sudanese government warplanes. Provided by local journalists.

What Should The International Community Be Doing?

Outside of dwindling aid access to Sudan's conflict regions, the international community is virtually disengaged from any and all serious efforts to support the people of Sudan against one of the most oppressive governments in the world. Ongoing, bare bones efforts to get the Sudanese government to stick to any agreement would be laughable if so many lives were not on the line. Despite the scale and scope of documented human suffering and the government of Sudan's rampant support for international terrorist organizations, there is very little evidence suggesting desperately needed renewed engagement in the near future. 

It is no secret that crimes such as those mentioned here happen inside the cloak of impunity and behind the veil of the honest ignorance. The international community isn't wrong in requiring hard evidence to act on chemical weapons usage anywhere in the world; however, it is wrong to turn a blind eye altogether when eyewitness accounts and reports of such weapons usage continues to mount. 

At the very least, both independent states and organized bodies such as the United Nations and African Union should be closely monitoring the situation in the Nuba Mountains, and really just Sudan in general. What would be even better is if action was taken to reach those parts of the Nuba Mountains where such attacks have reportedly taken place and investigate. The most likely way this could play out would be an independent NGO ignoring the government's ban on the area and carrying out an investigation. Sadly, with the bombs still falling, few are willing to take the risk to do so. And a majority of those who are willing don't have the resources to carry out an appropriate investigation. 

Consistent attention to possible chemical weapons usage by the international community could act as a warning shot across the bow that such attacks have consequences. The best way to begin strengthening international resolve on Sudan is to begin removing the cloak of impunity. To do that, attempts to get hard evidence need to be made by independent NGOs who have the legitimacy and resources to do so. Most importantly though, the government of Sudan should be informed the eyes of the world will no longer be turned away with regards to this specific issue.

The people of the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Darfur have suffered far beyond what anyone should be allowed to suffer. They should not now be forced to endure weapons usage that adds a deeper element of evil to the crimes already being committed against them.

Tags: Sudan, chemical weapons, Nuba Mountains

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