Government forces and their proxy militias have slaughtered civilians in villages in the Darfur region of Sudan, a United Nations human rights expert said yesterday after completing a 13-day tour of Sudan.
Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told a press briefing in Khartoum that she was “disturbed and alarmed by the gravity of the human rights abuses perpetrated” in Africa’s largest country.
Ms. Jahangir said she had also received reports of mass killings by Government-sponsored militias in the Malakal region of southern Sudan.
But her greatest concerns were saved for Darfur, where two rebel groups have been fighting the Sudanese Government since early last year and aid agencies say a humanitarian crisis is unfolding.
UN agencies and relief organizations estimate that at least one million people have fled their homes and become internally displaced since fighting broke out, while another 150,000 refugees have escaped across the border into Chad.
“I am deeply concerned,” she said. “The crisis is not over and the right to life of [millions of] people is seriously threatened.
A report by the UN’s Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued last month, found that Janjaweed militias – loose bands of Arab fighters that were recruited and armed by Khartoum – have carried out murders, rapes and other atrocities against the region’s black African population. Ms. Jahangir’s briefing echoed many elements of that report.
During her inspection tour, Ms. Jahangir said she received credible information that members of Sudan’s armed forces, the Popular Defence Forces and Government-sponsored militias had “attacked villages and summarily executed civilians.”
She said she had been unable to verify reports of the location of some mass graves because it was not safe to travel to certain areas within Darfur or they were too far away to reach during her visit.
But Ms. Jahangir said “there is no ambiguity that there is a link between some of the militias and Government forces.” She also said that many militias are being integrated into the country’s regular armed forces.
The rapporteur added that “armed criminal elements” have taken advantage of the conflict in Darfur to cause “some loss of life.”
The Government and the rebel groups reached a ceasefire deal in April, but aid workers say refugees arriving in Chad have told them of continuing attacks by the Janjaweed.
Ms. Jahangir said she was also concerned that some people had been sentenced to capital punishment for crimes committed before they had turned 18 – breaching international standards and Sudanese law.
“I will be urging the Government to conduct an inquiry and ensure that [the] death penalty is not imposed on minors,” she said.
Calling on the Sudanese Government to “end the culture of impunity” towards human rights abuses, Ms. Jahangir said its National Commission of Inquiry into what is happening in Darfur must examine the reports of violations by the armed forces.
Ms. Jahangir will issue a formal report to the UN Commission on Human Rights about the situation in Sudan after she visits Nairobi and Cairo to collect more information.