UN human rights fact-finding mission arrives in Sudan

22 April 2004

A United Nations human rights fact-finding mission has arrived in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to look into allegations of ethnic cleansing of black Sudanese refugees who say Arab Sudanese militias committed atrocities and forced them to flee from their western Darfur homelands to neighbouring Chad.

A United Nations human rights fact-finding mission has arrived in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to look into allegations of ethnic cleansing of black Sudanese refugees who say Arab Sudanese militias committed atrocities and forced them to flee from their western Darfur homelands to neighbouring Chad.

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan, who had expressed the concerns of the international community over Darfur and asked the Sudanese government for information, said the government issued an invitation to the five-member mission on 19 April. They arrived in Khartoum yesterday.

At the daily briefing, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard was asked about Khartoum's unhappiness with UN pronouncements on the Sudanese refugee crisis, especially Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland's characterization of militia fighting as ethnic cleansing.

"As the Emergency Relief Coordinator, he feels an obligation to call international attention to a crisis and to describe as accurately as he can disturbing developments as he sees them. So I don't think we have any apology to make about what he said," Mr. Eckhard said.

He recalled that Secretary-General Kofi Annan called attention to the situation in Darfur in his speech to the UN Human Rights Commission on 7 April marking the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

"It (Darfur) has been described as the worst humanitarian situation in the world and I think it is his obligation and our obligation to call attention to it," Mr. Eckhard said.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Mr. Ramcharan "sought assurances from the Sudanese authorities regarding the right of the team to visit any place it wished, to talk to persons of its choice, to have freedom of movement and to have their security assured by the Sudanese authorities."

The team already had spent nine days interviewing Sudanese refugees in Chad, where tens of thousands have fled to escape civil conflict in Darfur. The refugees, who, like the militias, are Muslim, made grave allegations and that report was submitted to Mr. Ramcharan, OHCHR said.

He would not release that report to the Commission on Human Rights, whose six-week meeting in Geneva ends tomorrow, until the fact-finding team submitted another describing the situation in Darfur, it said.

According to Mr. Egeland, there have been credible and frequent reports that Janjaweed militias had committed atrocities, including murder, rape and acts of looting and destruction, against Darfur’s black Africans, especially members of the Fur, Zaghawas and Massalit ethnic communities.

Conflict erupted early last year in Darfur between the Sudanese Government and allied militias, on the one hand, and local rebel groups, on the other. In addition to refugees, as many as one million people are now internally displaced, sometimes out of the reach of humanitarian aid.

 

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