Amnesty International has claimed that Sudan’s government has killed up to 250 people with chemical weapons in its ongoing conflict in Darfur, with children bearing the brunt of the attacks. The human rights group believes that a ‘blister agent’ such as mustard gas was used at least 30 times.
According to the United Nations, over 300,000 people have died from either combat or starvation and disease. Mass displacements and coercive migrations forced millions into refugee camps or across the border since the beginning of the conflict in 2003. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges related to massacres in Darfur.
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of Crisis Research has told reporters, “The evidence we have gathered is credible and portrays a regime that is intent on directing attacks against the civilian population in Darfur without any fear of international retribution”.
A statement by Sudan’s ambassador to the UN, Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed, however, claimed the report was not true and that Sudan did not have weapons of this type.
Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir became the president in 1989 when, as a brigadier of the Sudanese army, he led a group of officers in a military coup ousting the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq l-Mahdi after it began negotiations with rebels in the south. Since then, he has been elected three times as President in elections that have been under scrutiny for corruption. He is the first sitting president to be indicted by the international Criminal Court.
The conflict in Darfur began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) began fighting the government of Sudan. SLM and JEM accuse the government of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab population.
As oil was discovered in Western Sudan, the government and international contributors became increasingly interested in the land in Darfur, which intensified the unrest.
The on-going conflict in Darfur, Sudan was declared “genocide” by United States in 2004. In September 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote an open letter to the members of the European Union calling for a unified response to the crisis.
Both China and Russia, however, have blocked many United Nations resolutions against Sudan. The country is China’s largest foreign oil provider. Sudan’s military is supplied by Chinese-made helicopters, tanks, fighter planes, bombers, rocket propelled grenades, and machine guns.
For decades, Russia and China have maintained a strong economic and political strategic partnership with Sudan. They opposed UN peace keeping troops in the country. Russia supports Sudan’s territorial integrity and opposes the creation of an independent Darfuri state. Also, Russia is Sudan’s strongest investment partner and political ally in Europe.
On one side of the deadly conflict are the Sudanese military and police and the Janjaweed – a Sudanese militia group recruited mostly from among Arabized indigenous Africans and a small number of Bedouins of the northern Rizeigat. On the other side are rebel groups recruited primarily from the non-Arab Muslim Fur, Zghawa and Masalit.
According to media reports, attacks on Darfuri villages commonly begin with Sudanese Air Force bombings. Air campaigns are often followed by Janjaweed militia raids. All remaining village men, women, and children are either murdered or forced to flee. Looting, burning food stocks, raping women and children and stealing livestock are common. Dead bodies are tossed in wells to contaminate water supplies and entire villages are burned to the ground.