The number of black Africans killed by Arab militias in the Darfur region of Sudan is "bound to be staggering," a United Nations human rights expert said today as she called on the Sudanese Government to end the culture of impunity for those committing human rights abuses in the region.
Briefing reporters in New York after completing a 13-day tour of Sudan earlier this month, Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said there was no doubt that Khartoum had sponsored, armed or recruited the so-called Janjaweed Arab militias.
Last month two UN human rights fact-finding reports said the Janjaweed and other militias allied to the Government had committed numerous human rights violations in Darfur, including murders, rapes and the looting and destruction of villages.
Ms. Jahangir said that during her visit, "nearly every third or fourth family" she spoke to in the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) within Darfur had lost a relative to the militias.
"It's very hard to say [accurately] how many people have been killed," she said, but interviews with IDPs indicated it would be "quite a large number…They are bound to be staggering."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to arrive tomorrow in Sudan to see first-hand the situation in Darfur, which he described last week as a catastrophe. Mr. Annan will visit IDP camps and then inspect refugee camps in neighbouring Chad, as well as hold talks with government officials of Sudan and Chad.
UN agencies estimate that two million people need food and humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict. There are more than one million IDPs and at least another 150,000 others have fled to Chad.
Ms. Jahangir said it is vital that the international community begins to catalogue what has happened in Darfur since fighting broke out between the Sudanese Government and two rebel groups early last year. Once it does that, it can decide what steps to take against the planners of the militia campaign.
She said the militias - who, like their targets, are predominantly Muslim - often wear the uniforms of Government soldiers and use Government vehicles. They also often make their raids on villages in concert with attacks by military forces, she said.
Ms. Jahangir stressed she did not have enough information yet to categorize what has happened as either ethnic cleansing or genocide, but she said "there are strong indications of crimes against humanity."
The Rapporteur is expected to hand down her formal report on her visit to Sudan by the end of next month.
Video of press briefing [26mins]