By Lindah Mogeni
The UN has only limited access to Jebel Marra, the location in Sudan where Amnesty International alleges Sudanese government forces have used chemical weapons, UN Peacekeeping Chief Herve Ladsous said here Tuesday.
‘’We have not come across any evidence regarding the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra,’’ Ladsous told the UN Security Council, noting that UN mission’s consistently restricted access into Jebel Marra has hindered effective monitoring and reporting.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has also assessed that no conclusions regarding Amnesty’s conclusions can be made without further investigation.
In a report released on September 30, Amnesty pointed to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Sudanese government forces against civilians in Darfur, resulting in an estimated 200-250 deaths since January 2016.
Amnesty alleges that chemical weapons have been deliberately targeted towards civilians in the remote region of Jebel Marra in Darfur at least 30 times in the past eight months.
The Amnesty investigation was conducted remotely, from outside Jebel Marra, mostly due to access restrictions. It therefore relied upon satellite imagery, extensive interviews, and expert analyses of survivors’ injuries.
According to the report, interviewed survivors witnessed a ‘’poisonous black smoke that gradually changed colour and smelled putrid’’ during the attacks in their villages.
“It smells like someone burning plastic, mixed with the smell of rotten eggs…”said Kobei, a senior armed opposition group commander, in an interview in the report.
Disturbing images from the investigation show injuries ranging from weeping blisters, bloody lesions and darkened skin peeling off. Other reported injuries include eye problems, severe respiratory problems, involuntary seizures, red urine, miscarriages, bloody vomiting and diarrhea.
The report mentioned that children were generally more affected than adults after the alleged exposure. Further, injured survivors have had ‘’no access to adequate medical care.”
Both chemical weapons experts who reviewed the evidence stated that the victims experienced a variety of symptoms that “strongly suggest an exposure to chemical weapon agents.”
Identifying the specific chemical agents requires collecting samples from those allegedly exposed, from the environment and from weapon remnants used during the attacks. Given the severe access restrictions into Jebel Marra, Amnesty have not been able to do this.
Sudan is currently a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention that bans the use of chemical weapons.
The Sudanese government has refuted the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and said that it will to cooperate with the OPCW investigation.
In a letter dated 27 September 2016, Sudan’s Minister of Justice, Awad Hassan Elnour, said that the evidence in the report is “unreliable, contradictory and unsubstantiated ’’ and alleged that ‘’the survivors and witnesses in the report were either members of the opposition or influenced under fear.”
Elnour questioned whether the satellite imaging relied on in the report showed government forces wearing protective suits and helmets against chemical weapons as they stood on the very ground supposed to be targeted with such weapons. She additionally questioned the alleged death toll of 200 people, considering no such information was available in any health centers in the country.
The report however alleges that the chemicals were released primarily through air bombs and rockets and that the victims had no access to medical treatment.
Peacekeepers from the UN-African Union force in Darfur have been denied access into Jebel Marra where the alleged chemical weapon attacks occurred, according to Ladsous, in his briefing to the UN Security Council on October 4.