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Former Prosecutors and State Department War Crimes Officials Affirm Satellite Sentinel Project Findings of Apparent War Crimes in Abyei

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Former Prosecutors and State Department War Crimes Officials Affirm Satellite Sentinel Project Findings of Apparent War Crimes in Abyei

Posted by Enough Team on June 1, 2011

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of former civilian and military officials has affirmed the Satellite Sentinel Project’s (SSP) analysis of visual evidence that the Government of Sudan allegedly committed war crimes during its occupation of the disputed region of Abyei.

The officials include two former US State Department Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, David Scheffer and Pierre Prosper; David Crane, the former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Michael Newton, the former Senior Advisor to the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes.

SSP issued a report on May 29, which documented visual evidence of war crimes by the Government of Sudan in Abyei. The project has conveyed this evidence to the UN Security Council and to the International Criminal Court. The Government of Sudan has stated that the Satellite Sentinel Project has no evidence of war crimes.

Statements in Support of SSP’s Findings

David Scheffer, former US State Department Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes:

“The evidence derived from SSP satellite imagery of the assault on and destruction of much of Abyei town reveals actions that appear to violate the principles of military necessity, proportionality, and distinction – primary pillars of the laws of war. The armed clashes between SPLM/A troops and SAF troops in mid-May, about which further reporting contradicts the account of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan, would not justify this type of military action by SAF troops against Abyei or its civilian population. Furthermore, the presence of tens of thousands of civilians in Abyei and the apparently systematic actions of SAF forces to assault those civilians, destroy their homes and food storage areas, and finally route them from the town constitutes violations, at a minimum, of critical protective provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Second Additional Protocol of 1977, both of which bind the Government of Sudan and its military forces as a state party. They may also constitute crimes against humanity given the magnitude and apparent systematic character of destruction and forced displacement of civilians in Abyei. The SSP satellite imagery provides critical ‘eyes-on’ evidence of illegal military conduct that merits further investigation. There may come a point where the U.N. Security Council will need to consider expanding its original 2005 referral of the Darfur situation to the International Criminal Court to such actions in central Sudan, particularly if the Sudanese authorities do not punish those military and civilian leaders responsible for these atrocity crimes and if further violations of the laws of war and international humanitarian law continue. If Sudan President Omar Hassan Amad al Bashir, who has been indicted for atrocity crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court, is responsible for the assault on Abyei, that fact alone would provide an excellent basis on which to consider expanding the Court’s jurisdiction.”

Pierre Prosper, former US State Department Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes: 

“The images of destruction are horrifyingly similar to what we have seen too many times in the past in Sudan. The Government of Sudan is clearly engaged in a continued pattern of systematic atrocities and violations despite the North-South agreement. The imagery provided by the Satellite Sentinel Project contains evidence of actions by Sudan Armed Forces that may well constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time for the United States and international community to put into place a serious and concerted action plan to end the abuses in Sudan once and for all.”

David Crane, former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone:

“Governments who unleash their armed forces against civilians in an intentional military operation to kill, disrupt and destroy for whatever purpose are committing violations of international criminal law. At a certain time in our past such actions, though reprehensible, were largely left unaccounted for. A great deal of the 20th Century is replete with examples of such, but no more. Through political, legal, and practical advances, such governments can no longer justify, explain away, or be absolved of action which are war crimes and crimes against humanity. With the advance of modern technology, particularly those technologies that were once unavailable to nongovernmental organizations, and the proliferation of social media, these governments can no longer sweep such actions "under the rug". To put it more bluntly, they "cannot get away with it". As a former international Chief Prosecutor, such work done by the Enough Project and Harvard, shows credible evidence of international crimes, actionable crimes which the world cannot, must not ignore. The tragedy of Abyei Town reflects all that is wrong with the regime of Sudan and those who rule there. The bright red thread of international criminal law is politics. It is time for politicians and diplomats to act to stop the killing, the rapes, the horror that is Sudan.”

Michael Newton, former Senior Advisor to the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes:

“The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has provided irrefutable and nearly immediate evidence of the new wave of crimes committed against the civilian population in and around Abyei town. The Bashir government has taken a page from its Darfur playbook by waging war once again on civilians and their property. No government or international organization can plausibly plead ignorance or misinformation in the face of the photographic evidence available online and in the SSP report. There is no conceivable basis under the laws and customs of war for the deliberate razing of civilian homes and the theft or destruction of supplies provided by the generosity of other governments to help the population with its urgent requirements. The Security Council should exercise its Chapter VII authority to immediately mandate an independent team of international experts that can assess the scope of the crimes committed in Abyei and preserve the testimony of witnesses before they can be silenced by the Government of Sudan. The Bashir regime needs to be clearly reminded that the right of collective self defense permits other nations to respond to the pleas for assistance from a newly independent Government of Southern Sudan. By logical extension, the ongoing International Criminal Court investigation into events in Darfur should expand to encompass crimes committed in Abyei as well. It is clear to me that Abyei belongs in a newly formed Southern Sudan. The population should be allowed to freely determine its own future even in the face of regime tanks that continue to trample across Abyei because of the deliberate destruction of Abyei town. The war criminals in Khartoum should have no remaining pretense of moral authority in support of efforts to forcibly hold onto Abyei. Moreover, any influx of ‘settlers’ from the north should be seen as culprits complicit in the crimes of the regime rather than peaceful civilians building a community.”


About the Satellite Sentinel Project

The Satellite Sentinel Project combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker to deter the resumption of full-scale war between North and South Sudan. Not On Our Watch provided seed money to launch the Satellite Sentinel Project. The Enough Project contributes field reports and policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch and our Sudan Now partners, pressures policymakers by urging the public to act. UNOSAT analyzes satellite images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the web platform. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative provides research and leads the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the imagery. DigitalGlobe provides satellite imagery and additional analysis.