Newly released satellite images present chilling evidence that, a week after South Sudan declared independence from its northern neighbor, Sudan is failing to end the violence against civilians for which it has been internationally condemned. In fact, according to an unpublished report from UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan, there were credible allegations of executions, mass graves, aerial bombardments of civilian areas and even attacks on UN forces, as Sudan struggles to maintain control over the rebellious South Kordofan State. The report recommends independent investigations of human rights violations, and even suggested a referral to the International Criminal Court.
South Kordofan is the home to the Nuba people, a mostly-Christian minority who fought alongside South Sudan during its long struggle for independence. The state remains entirely within the borders of Sudan, even after South Sudan’s secession, and now the Nuba could be the targets of ethnic cleansing. Christians say that the violence is religious persecution, but according to Frederick Clarkson of Religion Dispatches, “the campaign to exterminate the Nuba has spared no one.”
The satellite photos, captured by actor and activist George Clooney’s Satellite Sentinel Report (SSR), show at least three mass graves in South Kordofan, where bombing and fighting began last month. The organization also cited numerous examples of eyewitnesses who say that Sudanese forces are systematically killing civilians allied with the rebel forces. Tens of thousands of people have fled since the violence erupted. According to refugee accounts, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) “helicopter gunships have hunted them in the mountains, and bombers have unleashed terror on towns.” The satellite photos are valuable because the news media has been barred from the area, and they show, all too plainly, that mass killings are being perpetrated – hence the need for mass graves.
“While the United Nations is celebrating the admission of South Sudan as a new member, Khartoum is still ruthlessly bombing civilians in South Kordofan,” Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, told The New York Times.
While the report and the photos are both deeply disturbing, they are, as Clarkson points out, also potentially groundbreaking. This seems to be just the beginning in the documentation of the horrific violence being perpetrated in south Sudan. The release of these photos marks, Clarkson writes, “the first time in history that private groups have combined world-class satellite image analysis with detailed reliable eye witness reports to confirm the location of mass graves to present details of how the bodies came to be there.” So perhaps these images can be among the first to bring the people causing such terrible violence to justice.
Photo from ENOUGH Project via flickr.
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