The United Nations top envoy for internally displaced persons (IDPs) today voiced grave concern about the deteriorating plight of the hundreds of thousands of civilians driven from their homes by weeks of deadly fighting in Liberia and called for swift action to ensure their protection and assistance.
Francis M. Deng, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Representative on Internally Displaced Persons, warned that the number of IDPs in Liberia continues to swell and their situation is worsening by the day as most lack access to food, clean water, and medical care, and basic sanitation facilities.
“Looting, rape and harassment of the civilian population by militia is reportedly widespread,” he said in a statement issued in Geneva. “From all accounts, the humanitarian crisis has become truly catastrophic.
“Of course, responsibility for ensuring the protection and assistance of civilians rests first and foremost with their government,” Mr. Deng said. “However, when a government is unable to do so, as is clearly the case in Liberia, the international community, often acting in partnership with regional actors, can and should be called upon to play a role.”
Mr. Deng also reiterated the Secretary-General's call on the parties concerned, and in particular the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel forces, to immediately end hostilities. He urged all armed actors to cooperate with the planned deployment of forces by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and any other international forces deployed with UN support so that humanitarian operations can safely be resumed and that assistance and protection be provided to populations in need without delay.
In addition to restoring security in the country generally, regional and international forces have a critically important role to play in protecting the internally displaced and other civilians at risk, Mr. Deng said. “This is a responsibility that ECOWAS forces importantly have assumed in the region in the past, though not always with full respect for human rights and humanitarian standards,” he said.
“As the Secretary-General has said, the United States can lend crucial support to ECOWAS in its planned efforts to bring security to the country and is called upon to do so,” Mr. Deng added.