An international police presence is needed in Sudan's troubled Darfur region to accompany and monitor local police officers so that the vast population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) there are protected, two senior United Nations human rights officials told the Security Council today.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Juan Méndez briefed the Council on their mission last week to Darfur, where they found the population of more than 1.45 million IDPs are living in "prisons without walls."
After the briefing, Mrs. Arbour and Mr. Méndez told reporters that the only way to overcome the IDPs' lack of trust that the police will protect them - especially if they venture out of the camps for wood and food or try to return home - is to include international police officers.
"I think a mere increase in their number [the Sudanese police] is unlikely to restore the lack of faith and actually overcome the sense of insecurity and fear that is prevalent in IDP camps," Mrs. Arbour said.
"In some camps, the number of police officers is clearly insufficient: say five police officers just outside a camp of 50,000 IDPs. But it's pretty clear that even when the Sudanese police presence has been considerably increased, it still has virtually no interaction with the camp community and people have no confidence [in them]."
The number of IDPs in Darfur has been swelling since last year, when Janjaweed militias began attacking villagers after two rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese Government. More than 200,000 refugees have also fled to neighbouring Chad.
Mrs. Arbour and Mr. Méndez called for an expansion of the size and mandate of the force of African Union (AU) ceasefire monitors, saying they have shown an impressive dedication to their work given their limited resources and numbers.
Mrs. Arbour indicated there were reports that whenever an international delegation toured IDP camps, security forces would later enter the camps and try to question anyone who spoke to the foreign visitors.
But the IDPs "expressed their faith and total dependence on the international community for protection - this is where they think their security lies."
She said the UN would not support the Government's policy of encouraging IDPs to return to their home villages until they felt assured the process would be both safe and voluntary.
"People can barely step outside the perimeter of their camps to collect firewood without a very realistic fear of being attacked…and raped on many occasions."
While emphasizing it was not his task to determine whether genocide has occurred in Darfur, Mr. Méndez said the international community must be vigilant in the weeks and months ahead.
"In my mind the vulnerability of certain ethnic groups in Darfur is such, and the instability of the situation generally, that we have not turned the corner on preventing genocide from happening in the future or even in the near future," he said.
The UN is in the process of setting up a commission of inquiry to consider whether genocide has happened after the Security Council called for such a commission in its most recent resolution on Darfur.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail was scheduled to address the 15-member Council this afternoon on the Darfur crisis.