On this annual Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare, we must recognize the plight of hundreds of Darfuri civilians killed by banned chemical weapons at the hands of Sudan’s government forces. The use of brutal chemicals against civilians, documented in visual testimony and now buried in international news, in an outrage. It is not enough to only hold remembrance. We must also seek justice for the fallen victims of unchecked cruel acts of chemical warfare. The international community must not look the other way in the face of chemical weapon attacks, no matter how powerful the attacker, and must instead demand that perpetrators finally be brought to justice.
In 2016, the government of Sudan committed chemical weapon attacks against innocent civilians in the Jebel Marra area of Western Darfur. Credible reporting by Amnesty International detailed the appalling and repeated use of chemical weapons in the Darfur region during former Sudanese President al-Bashir’s genocidal campaign. From more than 200 interviews and satellite imagery, it was estimated that more than 30 chemical attacks by Sudanese forces likely occurred in 2016 alone. Additionally, it was estimated that about 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to these chemical agents, many of them children. The images and videos included in the report are gut-wrenching and vividly document the anguish felt by the victims.
The international community has failed to establish an independent investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Darfur and also provide medical care to those who suffered the most horrifying symptoms. Many lives were lost, and as the surviving civilians share their stories we must take their suffering seriously. Chemical weapon attacks are an international crime, and the international community must not ignore any allegation of their usage on innocent civilians. Rather, it must investigate and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. We join the continued calls for those responsible not to get away with murder.
Today and everyday, it is imperative that we remember the innocent Darfuri civilians who were victims of chemical weapon attacks by Sudanese forces under al-Bashir’s regime. These attacks pose a clear violation to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which is an international arms control treaty signed by Sudan. A few governments have expressed concern, however the overwhelming majority face the situation with silence and unwillingness to take strong responsive actions. The hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, UNAMID, even completely denied the government’s involvement in the attacks at the time, despite the ample witness testimony.
This shameful failure to act in the face of international crimes has emboldened not only former President al-Bashir of Sudan but many other dictators to commit gross human rights violations, thinking that they are immune from punishment. No perpetrators have been brought to justice for these chemical weapons attacks, and al-Bashir has not been held accountable for his genocidal campaign in Darfur. Alarmingly, while the victims have remained unprotected and their grievances not addressed, the current interim government of Sudan has no known intention to pursue justice for the long suffering victims in Darfur.
This culture of impunity for those involved in the chemical attacks in Darfur is inexcusable. The international community is accountable to uphold its obligation to its own treaty. If they fail to do so, we the global citizens must call them out, remind them of their obligation, continue to speak up, and compel them to act. Every global citizen has a responsibility to listen and amplify the voices of survivors, as well as seek justice and accountability for these horrific crimes. We call on our supporters to bring these gross human rights violations into the spotlight and demand that chemical warfare in Sudan does not go unchecked and unpunished.