Sudanese military forces have bombed a refugee camp in neighbouring South Sudan, the United Nations confirmed today, calling for an urgent investigation into what its top human rights official warned could amount to “a serious international crime.”
“Yesterday the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) confirmed that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) dropped at least two bombs near the Yida refugee camp,” Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council.
According to Hilde Johnson, the head of UNMISS and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to South Sudan, two bombs fell inside the camp and three outside of it. The camp, located in the country’s Unity state, shelters over 20,000 people who have fled increasing violence in the Sudanese states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Mr. Ladsous said no casualties had been reported so far, adding that this could change as the mission is still verifying the situation in surrounding communities.
“It is absolutely imperative that both governments take the necessary steps to de-escalate the situation, ensure that civilian lives are protected, and resume peaceful dialogue,” Mr. Ladsous said.
Speaking later, Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, told journalists that the Sudanese Government had not ordered any bombings.
He also said his Government fully respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its southern neighbour, while adding that Sudan has the right to fight all rebels that try to cause instability in its territory.
Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the bombings and urged an investigation, stressing that the attack could amount to an international crime.
“There needs to be an independent, thorough and credible investigation to establish the precise circumstances of this aerial bombing,” said High Commissioner Navi Pillay. “If indeed it is established that an international crime or serious human rights violation has been committed, then those responsible should be brought to justice,” she said.
Ms. Pillay said the incident risks aggravating what is already an extremely tense and dangerous situation, and she urged the parties involved in the fighting to immediately cease all attacks on civilians.
“We had hoped to begin the relocation of refugees but our efforts have so far been hampered by heavy rains which have made the road to the camp impassable,” he said during a press briefing in Geneva.
A spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also voiced concern, calling on both parties to “take all steps to protect civilian lives.”
Increasing tensions in the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan have driven thousands of civilians to flee their homes since June, and various refugee sites have been established in South Sudan and Ethiopia to provide shelter, food and basic services to those affected by the violence.
In her remarks to the Security Council, Ms. Johnson also expressed concern over other areas in the country which she said have been bombed recently by the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA), including New Guffa and Yafta in Maban County, which caused the deaths of one child and seven SPLA soldiers.
Ms. Johnson said the bombings have prompted many people to move from Guffa to Bunji, the county capital, and said an increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is expected.
She also said fighting has been reported over the past couple of days in Upper Nile State, with UNMISS helping to evacuate the resulting casualties.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Lise Grande, also condemned the aerial bombardment and voiced concern over the attacks’ impact on civilians.
“The 10 November attack in Yida has put innocent civilians at extreme risk” said Ms. Grande. “These people have walked for miles. They are fleeing violence in Southern Kordofan in search of safety and lifesaving assistance. The bombing in Yida has severely disrupted the humanitarian operation just as we need to scale up our aid,” she said in a press release.
She confirmed that some humanitarian personnel have been evacuated from the area in the wake of the attack.