The top United Nations human rights official today condemned Sudan’s indiscriminate bombing raids that resulted in civilian casualties in South Sudan and urged the two countries’ governments to halt the escalating violence along their border areas.
“I condemn the indiscriminate aerial bombing by Sudanese forces in civilian areas in South Sudan, including in Mayom and Bentiu in Unity State, resulting in the deaths of at least eight civilians and many injuries since Saturday,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a press release.
“In the past week we have seen an intensification of the use of Antonovs [war planes] as well as jetfighters dropping bombs and launching rocket attacks, including in areas dangerously close to the offices of international organisations,” she added. “Such deplorable attacks must stop immediately.”
Ms. Pillay’s call follows Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s reiteration on Monday of his deep concern over continuing hostilities between the two countries, including the impact of the conflict on civilians.
In her comments, Ms. Pillay underlined the obligation of both governments under international human rights and humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians.
She also voiced alarm at South Sudan’s “unwarranted occupation” of the oil-producing region of Heglig in Sudan’s South Kordofan state, as well as reports of a dramatic build-up in the number of northern militia in the disputed Abyei area over the past few days.
“These are very worrying reports and I call on all parties to work to avoid an escalation of armed confrontation, bearing in mind the dire human rights and humanitarian consequences for civilians,” she said. In his statement yesterday, Mr. Ban had stressed that the Government of South Sudan must also withdraw its troops immediately from Heglig and use legal and diplomatic measures to address the status of the town.
“After so many decades of internal conflict, the Sudanese and South Sudanese know all too well the tragic consequences of large-scale violence and displacement and their long-lasting impact on the enjoyment of human rights,” the High Commissioner added.
Ms. Pillay supported the call by Secretary-General Ban to convene a planned presidential summit of the two countries as soon as possible. She also called for a renewed commitment, from both sides, to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which formally ended 22 years of civil war between Sudan and South Sudan, before the latter's independence last year.
“There is still time to pull back from the brink and bring all parties to the table to negotiate diplomatic solutions to disagreements over borders, oil, citizenship and other crucial issues,” she said.
The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Hilde Johnson, also raised concern over the continued bombing taking place in the civilian-populated areas in the country’s Unity and Warrap states.
“The loss of civilian lives as a result of indiscriminate bombings in Bentiu and Mayom is unacceptable,” Ms. Johnson, who in addition to leading the peacekeeping mission, is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan.
“It is the responsibility of the parties to hostilities to respect the physical integrity of civilians and their right to live without fear of displacement,” she added.
UNMISS confirmed that several bombing raids were carried out since the weekend, including five explosives dropped on Monday evening in the town of Mayom, where one of the mission’s logistics bases was hit. Eight civilians were killed and 22 were injured in the attacks.
“I call on both parties to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, protect civilians and guarantee the safety of international aid organizations and United Nations personnel and assets,” said Ms. Johnson.