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Sudan: Clooney's group makes new charges of mass graves

George Clooney's satellite project shows new evidence of mass burials in Sudan.

were buried according to internationally approved procedures, which call for bodies to be identified where possible and buried individually in a respectful manner.

One eyewitness reported seeing a yellow front-end loader dump a bucketful of five or six bullet-ridden, bloody bodies into a hole while two Sudanese Red Crescent workers looked on. Other eyewitnesses reported seeing bodies doused with fuel and set ablaze. And an eyewitness reported seeing men dressed in brown prison uniforms alongside Sudanese Red Crescent workers, throwing bodies into two mass graves on June 8. The use of conscripted prison labor to bury bodies could constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions, say human rights advocates.

The Red Crescent officials are not accused of the killings, although some Nuba witnesses charge that people posing as Red Crescent workers had been questioning and harrassing civilians. But the Red Crescent of Sudan is alleged to have disposed of the bodies improperly in mass graves.

The Red Crescent delivered at least 415 body bags and 2,000 plastic tarps in South Kordofan before the killing began on June 5, according to International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent documents. The Red Crescent has stated to Sudanese media and in its own reports that it has been involved in retrieving and disposing of bodies.

Acting on instructions from the South Kordofan state government, the Red Crescent used an excavator to dig large pits that were filled with white bags or tarps containing objects consistent with bodies and later covered by earth, the satellite project charges.

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“The evidence against the Sudanese government continues to compound and has now become impossible to dismiss,” said John Prendergast, a director of the Satellite Sentinel Project and co-founder of the anti-genocide group, Enough Project.

“It is time for the international community to take serious action and execute its responsibility to protect innocent lives in Sudan,” said Prendergast.

An official Red Crescent photo taken on June 27 shows the executive director for the organization’s South Kordofan branch, Mireikha Aldow Mireikha, with members of the Red Crescent body disposal team, some of whom are wearing masks or gloves, according to the report. Sudanese media has quoted South Kordofan Governor Ahmed Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in Darfur, as saying that he instructed the Red Crescent society to dispose of the bodies.

“While the U.S. and other members of the U.N. Security Council continue to debate how to respond, the debate over the existence of body bags and mass graves in and around Kadugli is now over,” said Charlie Clements, executive director of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights.

“The Satellite Sentinel Project has irrefutably confirmed that the Sudanese Red Crescent Society has dug mass graves and filled them with large numbers of corpses in body bags or tarps, following reports of systematic mass killing by the Government of Sudan,” said Clements.

The satellite project has also confirmed with DigitalGlobe satellite imagery the United Nations reports of six Government of Sudan security checkpoints on roads in and around Kadugli.

Physicians for Human Rights has studied the recent satellite images of alleged mass graves in Sudan. The images provide credible evidence of possible mass graves and require a full and comprehensive forensic investigation, said Stefan Schmitt, director of the group's International Forensic Program.

“To help determine the nature of mass graves, we need to know if the victims were soldiers or civilians and how and why they died," said Schmitt. "Proper exhumations and examinations would give us this information. Physicians for Human Right is prepared to provide forensic experts in support of an independent investigation into mass graves in South Sudan.”  

The Satellite Sentinel Project was founded by George Clooney to combine satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker to deter the resumption of full-scale civil war between North and South Sudan. Not On Our Watch, a group of Hollywood activists including Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, provided the seed money to launch the satellite project.

The anti-genocide group, Enough Project, contributes field reports and policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch and SudanNow pressures policymakers by urging the public to act. Google and Trellon collaborated 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.