Mass Graves Identified in Kadugli (South Kordofan): The End of Agnosticism

Dissent Magazine, July 14, 2011

By Eric Reeves

The evidence is presented with deliberation, caution, and the utmost restraint. Phrases such as "evidence consistent with" and "evidence corroborates" punctuate the analysis. But 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) (http://goo.gl/vgq5E ). Moreover, the evidence demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that there are mass graves in Kadugli; these have been reported for weeks by Nuba sources, including a number of eyewitnesses who have escaped to South Sudan. SSP combines four independent eyewitness accounts as well as compelling satellite photography to reveal the existence of three sites that can only be mass graves. As the report grimly notes:

DigitalGlobe 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; they are almost certainly body bags containing the remains of other victims. These white bags appear in both the satellite photography and explicit eyewitness accounts. Given the dimensions of the three gravesites---each approximately 26 meters by 5 meters (80 feet by 16 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. Given the time-frame implicit in the SSP report, it should be clear that this campaign of ethnic destruction was carefully planned well in advance of Khartoum's military actions. As in Abyei, the claim by the regime that the armed confrontation at Umm Dorein (June 4) was the cause of these military actions is completely untenable; this event, in which SAF troops apparently attempted to disarm soldiers of the SPLA/North, was purely pretext.

"Crime Scene: Evidence of Mass Graves in Kadugli" should end all skepticism about the nature of human destruction in South Kordofan, skepticism of a sort that has been expressed by special envoy Princeton Lyman and others in the Obama administration. Such skepticism has been expedient, and now 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, viz. 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 location of the graves in which the victims of genocide have been buried lies less than a kilometer south of Tilo Secondary School ("Google Maps" is an excellent source for extraordinarily detailed geographic information about Kadugli and its environs). The three mass graves could not be more conspicuous, or more obviously recently dug. This strongly corroborates the numerous accounts that have reached the world outside Kadugli; these accounts consistently indicate that the victims of violence are overwhelmingly Nuba African tribal groups, the same population that is enduring an aerial campaign of annihilation in the Nuba Mountains. There the Khartoum regime has come perilously close to destroying the present agricultural cycle (it is presently the most intense planting and tending season for crops), and thus created the conditions for famine and starvation. Khartoum has also shut down all humanitarian relief access to the Nuba Mountains, including that of the UN World Food Program.

What we have in Kadugli is a smaller, more violent embodiment of ambitions that are genocidal in character, as they were in the 1990s (few close of observers of Sudan dissent from this characterization of the jihad that raged from 1992 to 1998). Since our access to the Nuba Mountains is so limited, despite the courageous efforts by several international journalists, we can most clearly discern the animus of the present genocide by understanding exactly what is occurring in Kadugli.

The SSP report implicitly provides a timeline, beginning with the June 5 commencement of large-scale military activities by the SAF and militia groups, including the notorious Popular Defense Forces (PDF).

Time-line for genocide:

The time-line for mass slaughter begins almost at the very moment that Khartoum gives 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 June 8:

…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 the evening of June 8:

…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."

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.

These eyewitness accounts reported by SSP make even more ominous the fate of 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 their forced removal on Monday. The report did not say how many refugees were forced to leave the camp.

More than three weeks later, the UN still has no idea where these highly vulnerable civilians are. The SSP report provides a terrifyingly plausible answer. For yet another account from an eyewitness strongly indicates that the planning for the campaign of ethnic slaughter was undertaken before June 5:

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. Some of the vehicles driven by the SAF and Government of Sudan-aligned militias, according to two witnesses, include white-colored light vehicles, such as land cruisers, and white-colored Mitsubishi trucks. The vehicles described as "Mitsubishi trucks" or "dump trucks" have been reportedly used to collect dead bodies in Kadugli town proper.

These eyewitnesses report further:

One eyewitness has claimed 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.

But 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 during the past ten days, or before. Given the planning and ambition that now are clearly evident in this genocidal assault, assuming the worst is hardly out of place.

Here and Now

SSP aerial photography presents images that can’t be explained except as mass graves. These mass graves remain in Kadugli, quite visible, though unreported except for happenstance and the persistent work of the SSP. What we also know is that 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.

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.