Report accuses Sudan of 'scorched earth' tactics in Darfur

UNITED NATIONS — Amnesty International said Thursday that Sudanese government forces had laid waste to dozens of villages in the restive region of Darfur, bombing them from the air, burning homes, looting livestock and raping women — while preventing United Nations peacekeepers from going there to protect civilians.

In a report published Thursday, Amnesty released satellite images to show what the human rights group called the “scorched earth” tactics deployed by Sudanese forces this year in the volcanic mountain zone known as Jebel Marra. Those tactics have been deployed in other parts of Darfur since the conflict erupted there in 2003.

The group also said civilians fleeing the attacks testified about what they described as “poisonous smoke” that could have been chemical weapons. The group said it could not collect soil or blood samples as evidence, because “access to Jebel Mara is severely restricted.”

Sudan’s foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, in a meeting with The New York Times editorial board on Tuesday, dismissed the allegations as “nonsense.”

“We don’t use chemical weapons in populated areas,” he said. Asked whether government forces use chemical weapons anywhere, he said they did not — “at all.”

The report by Amnesty is perhaps most notable because it describes the kinds of tactics that Sudanese forces have used for the past 13 years to crush an insurgency in Darfur — and that world powers have failed to stop, despite repeated promises to stop mass atrocities in war zones.

Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted on charges of genocide, but the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has been forced to suspend the case because world powers have not moved to arrest him. Al-Bashir has long enjoyed the support of China and Russia.

Nearly 20,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers have been deployed to Darfur. But despite repeated requests to the government of Sudan, they have been unable to even get to the conflict zones of Jebel Marra, said a spokesman for U.N. peacekeeping, Nick Birnback.

One measure of the violence is the exodus of those who once lived there. The United Nations estimates that nearly 100,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of this year.

For over a decade, different parts of the vast region of Darfur have been convulsed by fighting between government forces, pro-government militias and rebel groups, producing a death toll that could be in the tens of thousands and displacing more than two million people from their homes.

The Amnesty report is based on what the group said were interviews with 184 survivors and witnesses of attacks on villages in Jebel Marra. They described bombings, rapes, arson and the looting of livestock, blankets and cooking pots.

“Most civilians were killed by bombs or shot while fleeing attacks,” the report said. “Government forces also killed civilians who resisted the forces’ violations, including those who resisted giving up their property or tried to prevent rapes.”

In one case documented in the report, a village elder described a raid by members of a pro-government militia known as the janjaweed. Many died, the elder told Amnesty. Those who fled could not go back to bury their dead, he said, and made their way to a displaced people’s camp.

He told the Amnesty investigators that the survivors were left with nothing to eat but bush fruits and tree leaves.

© 2016 New York Times News Service