By Eric Reeves
July 15, 2011 (SSNA) — A new report from the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) concludes that available evidence "corroborate[s] claims that the Sudan Armed Forces troops are systematically hunting and killing civilians" in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan (North Sudan). Moreover, the evidence demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that there are mass graves in Kadugli, as has been reported for weeks by Nuba sources, including eyewitnesses who have escaped to South Sudan. The SSP report combines four independent eyewitness accounts with satellite photography to reveal the existence of three mass-grave sites. As the report grimly notes:
"Digital Globe satellite imagery analyzed by Satellite Sentinel Project shows no discernable activity at the alleged mass gravesite near Tilo School on 17 June. However, as of 4 July, three excavated areas measuring approximately 26 by 5 meters are visible less than 1 kilometer south of the Tilo School."
White bags of irregular size, but consistent with human body dimensions, are conspicuously heaped near these gravesites, according to both satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts; they are almost certainly body bags containing the remains of other victims. Given the dimensions of the three gravesites—each approximately twenty-six meters by five meters (eighty feet by sixteen feet)—they could certainly contain thousands of corpses, perhaps many thousands if the graves are deep enough. SSP does not speculate on this issue, but does note the presence of heavy earth-moving equipment.
The SSP report implicitly provides a timeline, which begins with the June 5 commencement of large-scale military activities in South Kordofan by the northern Sudanese military (SAF) and militia groups like the notorious Popular Defense Forces (PDF). The SSP reports that mass slaughter began almost at the very moment that Khartoum gave the go-ahead to its military and militia forces:
"Four eyewitness accounts communicated to SSP allege that SAF and Government of Sudan-aligned forces began as early as 5 or 6 June to search house-to-house for SPLM supporters and others, reportedly killing those that they found. As of 10 July, according to one witness, the house-to-house searches continue to occur."
An eyewitness who has since escaped reports to SSP that on June 8,
"SAF killed an unknown number of civilians because of their suspected support for the SPLM in Tilo village, near the Tilo Secondary School, in Kadugli on 8 June. The SAF troops arrived at Tilo in light trucks with machine guns mounted on the back of the vehicles, according to the eyewitness. Five SAF soldiers allegedly held down one civilian while one of the soldiers slit the civilian’s throat. The same witness also reports seeing and hearing SAF soldiers seal the doors of houses in Tilo and set the houses afire, burning alive civilians trapped inside."
A second, separate eyewitness reports to SSP that on the same day,
"…at least two pits were dug…less than a kilometer south of the Tilo School in Kadugli and approximately 100 meters from a radio tower. The eyewitness reports seeing a yellow-colored earthmover being driven by someone dressed as a civilian. The vehicle had a ‘bucket with teeth’ on the front of the machine. The bucket could move from side to side, and it would lift up earth and deposit it elsewhere. The eyewitness estimated that the apparent size of the pits measured approximately 10 meters long by 5 meters wide, but the individual could not confirm the site dimensions."
This same witness reports that by that evening,
"…SAF soldiers, apparent Government of Sudan-aligned militia, men in brown uniforms consistent with those worn by prisoners at the local prison, and individuals dressed in a way consistent with Sudan Red Crescent Society (SRCS) workers were seen driving in large, green trucks in the vicinity of the site. Given allegations that Government of Sudan-aligned intelligence officers had been reportedly posing as SRCS workers near the UN Mission in Sudan compound last month, it is unknown whether or not those individuals in SRCS-consistent dress, including a white apron with a red crescent, were in fact affiliated with the SRCS. Impersonating a Red Cross or Red Crescent worker can constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Large green trucks were moving back and forth from the site. The eyewitness claims that dead bodies had been picked up from the market area of Kadugli and from El Gardud and Tilo villages in Kadugli around that time."
SSP also reports that "a third eyewitness account [received June 12] also alleges the presence of a mass grave at Tilo School."
These eyewitnesses report further
"…that Government of Sudan-aligned forces are putting dead bodies, in some cases, in what appear to be white plastic tarps or other body bags. Another eyewitness alleges that people were taken and killed by SAF troops and police officers in front of their houses near the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) facilities around 6 or 7 June. On approximately 7 or 8 June, the witness saw what he called white ‘Mitsubishi trucks’ picking up bodies south of the ECS guesthouse in Kadugli. "
A month later, the horror is continuing:
"Dozens of white-colored light vehicles are seen in areas throughout Kadugli on 4 July. Heavy trucks consistent with white-colored transport trucks are visible as well. These vehicles appear consistent with SAF and Government of Sudan-aligned militia vehicles previously observed by SSP at Government of Sudan-aligned encampments and those described by multiple eyewitnesses as being present in Kadugli town. On 4 July, a pile of white bundles is clearly visible in Kadugli town near the ECS facilities, just south of the church and guesthouse. White-colored vehicles consistent with those used by SAF and Government of Sudan-aligned militia are present in that area. Tracking consistent with the presence of heavy vehicles is visible there as well."
There is nothing in the SSP report more recent than July 4, except the compelling report by the Nuba survivor that these "house-to-house searches continue to occur"; we certainly have no idea how many have been imprisoned, killed, or interred, in the past ten days and before.
The implications of these reports are clear: evidence of genocide was clear only three days after Khartoum began its military major military actions in South Kordofan; this strongly argues that planning must have occurred well before the date the assault began. In short, these accounts strongly suggest a carefully orchestrated campaign of ethnically targeted destruction, and a follow-up effort to hide the evidence from international witnesses. If men in Kadugli dug these ghastly scenes of atrocity, it was in Khartoum that the digging was ordered, by men who knew full well that the graves would be filled with Nuba people.
Genocidal intent here is terrifyingly conspicuous, as it is in the report of "Yusef," a Nuba resident of Kadugli who told Agence France-Presse that he had been informed by a member of the PDF militia that they had been provided with plenty of weapons and ammunition, and a standing order: "’He said that they had clear instructions: just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up. He told me he saw two trucks of people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town." Versions of "Yusef’s" account have echoed in countless reports from those Nuba fortunate enough to escape Kadugli and its environs.
But if genocidal intent is clearest in the targeted destruction and burial of the Nuba people in Kadugli, it is most consequential in the regions away from the capital, particularly in the form of systematic denial of humanitarian access to desperately need African populations in the Nuba. As I have argued previously here, indigenous people in the Nuba Mountains have been terrorized into fleeing their homes and their crops, living in the hillsides with only the shelter of caves; this enforced flight comes at the most critical moment in the agricultural cycle for planting and tending. Without a harvest in the fall, and given the total obstruction of the UN World Food Program and other humanitarian organizations who have distributed food in the Nuba, famine and starvation will again stalk the people of this region, as was so brutally the case in the 1990s genocide.
"Crime Scene: Evidence of Mass Graves in Kadugli" should end all skepticism about the nature of the human destruction in South Kordofan. Such skepticism, expressed by U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman and others in the Obama administration, stands revealed as having accommodated Khartoum’s genocidal ambitions. The SSP report contains key eyewitness accounts that confirm, independently of each other, what has been widely reported by many other Nuba and some Western eyewitnesses: the execution of Nuba and others with "Southern sympathies" has obliged the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and its Arab militia allies to engage in the grim and massive task of covering up the evidence of slaughter that has claimed an untold number of lives.
The SSP report suggests a terrible fate for some 7,000 Nuba civilians who had sought refuge with the UN in Kadugli. On June 20 the Associated Press reported:
"Sudanese intelligence agents posed as Red Crescent workers and ordered refugees to leave a UN-protected camp in a region where Sudan’s Arab military has been targeting a black ethnic minority, according to an internal UN report obtained Thursday [June 23]. The report said agents from the National Security Service donned Red Crescent aprons at a camp in Kadugli, South Kordofan and told the refugees to go to a stadium for an address by the governor and for humanitarian aid. The refugees were threatened with forced removal from the camp if they did not comply.
"The report…does not say what happened to the camp residents after were forced to leave the camp."
This the world must know; there is no turning away. For those watching from afar, there is only the question: "does it matter that the world knows?" Likely answers don’t bear much close moral inspection.
Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.