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Deadly attacks in West Darfur breached international law - UN report

20 March 2008 – Recent attacks by militias and the Sudanese army on four villages in West Darfur that left at least 115 people dead and some 30,000 displaced violated international humanitarian and human rights law, a United Nations report released today has found.

The report, issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in cooperation with the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), describes attacks on four villages north of El Geneina, the regional capital.

The attacks on the villages of Saraf Jidad, Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj were carried out as part of a push by the Sudanese Government in late January and early February to drive back an insurgent group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The 8 February attacks involved aerial bombardments by helicopter gun ships and fixed-wing aircraft, accompanied by ground offensives by soldiers and armed militia on horses and camels, the report says.

The report describes extensive looting during and after the attacks, and catalogues “consistent and credible accounts” of rape committed by armed men in uniform.

“These actions violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objective,” the report concludes.

“Moreover, the scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy,” it adds.

UNAMID human rights staff were unable to investigate reports that similar ground and air offensives carried out on Jebel Moon and nearby areas on 18, 19 and 22 February also resulted in the killing of civilians, as the Government denied the UN access to Jebel Moon until 1 March.

According to the report, this was “in breach of its obligation to allow UNAMID officials freedom of movement under the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the UN and the Sudanese Government in February 2008.”

The attacks of the JEM rebel group, which precipitated the Government offensive, had previously been determined by the Darfur Ceasefire Commission to be in violation of the 2004 N’Djamena Ceasefire Agreement.

Meanwhile, UNAMID Deputy Joint Special Representative Henry Anyidoho travelled to one of the villages, Silea, to assess the security situation on the ground and to look at the possibility of the mission’s deployment there.

“The protection of civilians is our priority,” Mr. Anyidoho told community elders. “We will not abandon you. The UN will continue working to improve your living conditions,” he said, affirming that UNAMID would soon have a permanent presence in the area.

Currently, UNAMID conducts daily patrols from El Geneina to the conflict-affected areas, allowing humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) access to the population.

UNAMID took over from a previous AU force at the beginning of the year in a bid to quell the fighting and humanitarian suffering in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed in the past five years and at least 2.2 million displaced.

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