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You are here: Opinion Analyses Yet More Compelling Evidence of Atrocity Crimes in South Kordofan

Yet More Compelling Evidence of Atrocity Crimes in South Kordofan

Three more mass gravesites identified by the Satellite Sentinel Project, along with clear evidence of advance planning by Khartoum for the slaughter in Kadugli

By Eric Reeves

August 25, 2011 (SSNA) -- The most recent report on atrocity crimes in South Kordofan was published on Tuesday, August 23, by the Satellite Sentinel Project ("Special report: evidence of burial of human remains in Kadugli"). It provides compelling evidence---satellite photography and eyewitness accounts---of three additional mass gravesites in and around Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan, and scene of well-documented attacks on the Nuba ethnic group. The UN High Commission for Human Rights has released its own report, which also presents compelling evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity (the un-redacted and more revealing version is available here).The weak head of UNHCHR, Navi Pillay, has declared that it is "essential [that] there is an independent, thorough and objective inquiry with the aim of holding perpetrators to account"; she has been echoed in this insistence by other senior UN officials and diplomats from member states. But as I've recently argued, this will be adamantly refused by Khartoum; and---protected by China on the UN Security Council---the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime will be in a position to reject any non-consensual investigation. This will be an extraordinary moment of political and moral clarity for the world body, and for whatever remains of the ideal of a "responsibility to protect." There will simply be no way in which to finesse international failure to investigate at this moment, with such compelling evidence.

To be sure, Khartoum has now offered the UN the opportunity for a brief "assessment mission" in South Kordofan, which will be strictly controlled by the Sudan Armed Forces and Military Intelligence; it will be a thoroughly sanitized view. At the same time the regime has created a new "committee" charged with monitoring the situation in South Kordofan. This will be the ongoing reply to any further insistence on the need for an independent human rights investigation. Accepting this "assessment mission" and Khartoum’s factitious monitoring committee in place of the demanded independent and thorough investigation will be to admit the most abject failure.

What gives special importance to this new report from the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), in addition to the evidence it provides, is the editorial comment that accompanies it. This "Note from the Editor" makes clear just how perversely unwilling the Obama administration has been to accept the overwhelming evidence of mass gravesites and extensive atrocity crimes in Kadugli, including widespread, ethnically-targeted human destruction. This has entailed what is finally no more than a feckless and disingenuous skepticism, deployed for reasons of diplomatic expediency rather than any reasoned concern about pre-judging the situation on the ground. The "Note from the Editor" provides a brief, perspicuous survey of all the evidence now available, and thus provides a devastating account of how untenable the Obama administration's continuing skepticism and counter-claims have become. It also provides clear evidence that the Khartoum regime had prepared in advance for the mass killings that began on June 5:

"Statements and press releases by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the SRCS, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have also confirmed that mass body recovery and disposal operations have been occurring in Kadugli. A 1 July report released by IFRC verifies the SRCS, reportedly acting on instructions from the Government of South Kordofan, has been actively collecting dead bodies in Kadugli town, and had at least 415 body bags and 2,000 plastic tarps recently transferred to it from the IFRC prior to the fighting in June. By the end of June, the SRCS was publicly saying it needed more body bags." (emphasis added)

In this context, the conclusion to this "Note from the Editor" has an inescapable authority:

"It is now two months since reports of the systematic killing of civilians in Kadugli by Government of Sudan-aligned forces first emerged. The debate continues about what further steps the US and the international community should take in response to the gross violations of human rights that have been reported. What should no longer be debated, however, is that these alleged crimes, including mass killing and subsequent mass burial of the dead, have happened and continue to occur."

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Editor’s Note

Satellite Sentinel Project, August 23,2011

"Special report: evidence of burial of human remains in Kadugli"

The Satellite Sentinel Project's (SSP) identification on14 July 2011 of a cluster of white bundles in Kadugli as consistent with human remains wrapped in white plastic tarps or body bags was controversial at the time. Although publicly questioned by a U.S. government official, it has now been established by SSP through the collection of additional imagery and eyewitness reports. This report presents more visual evidence and new information by eyewitnesses who spoke directly to SSP of the collection and burial of human remains wrapped in tarps and/or body bags by the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS). The bundles were buried at an additional two new apparent mass graves in and around Kadugli.

To date, SSP has identified a total of eight mass graves in and around Kadugli, as well as evidence of corpses wrapped in what appear to be body bags and/or tarps at four sites. Also, SSP's imagery of apparent mass graves has been reviewed by Stefan Schmitt, International Forensic Program Director for Physicians for Human Rights, who has concluded that the images "provide enough credible evidence to suggest the presence of mass graves."

Despite the visual evidence corroborating the eyewitness accounts, as well as images of three mounds consistent with reported mass graves nearby, the US government claimed that SSP's satellite imagery provided "no clear evidence of mass graves." In a 20 July 2011 Washington Post article, "US Government Cannot Confirm Mass Graves in Sudan," a US government official stated that, "What they (SSP) identify as body bags, we see those same items in those same places before the fighting started." The US government has released no eyewitness report or imagery in support of its assertion.

SSP has determined, though, that these same items were not present in those same places on 7 June or 17 June or 20 July. Since the 14July report, SSP has published reports from additional eyewitnesses who have seen corpses wrapped in what appear to be white body bags or white plastic tarps. And satellite imagery shows the dumping and subsequent burials of what appear to be white bundles of human dimensions, wrapped in some sort of tarps, and bent in the shapes of the letters "C" or "J," consistent with human bodies bent at the waist or knees, on are mote, wooded mountainside.

Statements and press releases by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the SRCS, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have also confirmed that mass body recovery and disposal operations have been occurring in Kadugli. A 1 July report released by IFRC verifies the SRCS, reportedly acting on instructions from the Government of South Kordofan, has been actively collecting dead bodies in Kadugli town, and had at least 415 body bags and 2,000 plastic tarps recently transferred to it from the IFRC prior to the fighting in June. By the end of June, the SRCS was publicly saying it needed more body bags.

This, paired with a 7 July statement by the ICRC stating that it "provided Sudanese Red Crescent emergency action teams with technical advice on the management of dead bodies, and with the body bags they needed to recover the dead," corroborates SSP’s assertion that the white or light-colored objects are consistent with body bags. Eyewitnesses have described to SSP seeing a yellow front-end loader with a backhoe digging mass graves in and around Kadugli at sites in which an SRCS Land Cruiser and SRCS workers were also present. One eyewitness described a yellow excavator digging two pits at a site where men dressed in a manner consistent with SRCS workers subsequently threw bodies into the pits.

These eyewitness reports, obtained by SSP, are consistent with a statement to the press by the executive director of the South Kordofan branch of SCRS that the locality of Kadugli provided the SRCS corpse management team with "a loader for excavation."

It is now two months since reports of the systematic killing of civilians in Kadugli by Government of Sudan-aligned forces first emerged. The debate continues about what further steps the US and the international community should take in response to the gross violations of human rights that have been reported. What should no longer be debated, however, is that these alleged crimes, including mass killing and subsequent mass burial of the dead, have happened and continue to occur.

[footnotes in PDF at http://www.satsentinel.org/reports]

Eric Reeves is professor of English language and literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He has spent the past 12 years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the US and internationally. He has testified several times before the Congress and is author of “A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”

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