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29 Sep

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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‘War crimes’ condemned as study uncovers horrifying evidence of chemical attacks by government forces on civilians, including babies and young children

Homes in Jebel Marra allegedly burned during a chemical attack

Homes in Jebel Marra allegedly burned during a chemical attack. A study alleges that chemical weapons have been used against civilians in the remote region of Darfur in Sudan. Photograph: Amnesty International

Sudanese government forces have used chemical weapons repeatedly against civilians, including babies and young children, in one of the most remote regions of Darfur over the past eight months, according to allegations documented by Amnesty International.

The alleged chemical attacks, believed to have killed up to 250 people, mostly children, represent a “new low” in the catalogue of serious abuses perpetrated by government forces in the region, said the human rights group.

The most recent of the alleged offensives recorded by the investigation occurred on 9 September. The attacks are ongoing, said Amnesty.

Using satellite images, more than 200 in-depth interviews by phone or internet, and expert analysis of dozens of distressing images showing babies and children with flayed and bloody skin, the investigation claims that at least 30 chemical attacks have taken place in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January 2016.

Amnesty denounced what it called indiscriminate attacks on civilians by government troops as a war crime.

A spokesman for the Sudanese government denied any chemical weapon attacks had taken place. Dr Khalid al-Mubarak, the media attache at the Sudan embassy in London, said that fighting in the Jebel Marra district was the result of government troops trying to attack forces loyal to Abdul Wahid al-Nour, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement.

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Obama criticises decision by lawmakers to issue first veto override of presidency

The US Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected Barack Obama’s veto of legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia’s government. The final vote was 97-1 against the veto. Democratic minority leader Harry Reid was the lone ‘no’ vote

Barack Obama suffered a unique political blow on Wednesday, when the US Congress overturned his veto of a bill that would allow families of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.

The overwhelming bipartisan vote in both the Senate and House inflicted the first veto override of Obama’s presidency, less than four months before he leaves office. The White House issued an unusually scathing response.

“I would venture to say that this is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done, possibly, since 1983,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “Ultimately these senators are going to have to answer their own conscience and their constituents as they account for their actions today.”

Obama expressed disappointment. “The concern that I’ve had has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia per se or my sympathy for 9/11 families, it has to do with me not wanting a situation in which we’re suddenly exposed to liabilities for all the work that we’re doing all around the world, and suddenly finding ourselves subject to the private lawsuits in courts where we don’t even know exactly whether they’re on the up and up, in some cases,” he told CNN.

“So this is a dangerous precedent and it’s an example of why sometimes you have to do what’s hard. And, frankly, I wish Congress here had done what’s hard. I didn’t expect it, because if you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do.”

The legislation will permit courts to waive a claim of foreign sovereign immunity when an act of terrorism occurs inside US borders, according to the terms of the bill. Saudi Arabia has objected strongly to the legislation and has categorically denied any role in the 9/11 attacks. Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals.

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