UN rights chief warns of crisis in Chad as Darfur atrocities spill over
Deadly violence, maiming and burning of people alive is increasingly spilling over from strife-torn Darfur to neighbouring Chad and displacing thousands, United Nations agencies said today, as the world body’s human rights chief warned of a full-blown crisis and called on Chadian leaders to protect their civilians.
“I am deeply concerned that the horrendous violence that has been wracking Darfur is affecting Chad. Action must be taken immediately to stop a full-blown human rights crisis in south-eastern Chad,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.
“It is also the Government’s duty to bring those responsible for the violence to justice,” she added, noting an official announcement on 8 November that the authorities would establish culpability for the attacks that over the past week have killed around 200 people.
Ms. Arbour also expressed her hope that a state of emergency imposed on Chad’s border areas near Sudan, as well as in the capital N’Djamena, would be lifted soon.
Armed men on horseback have attacked 23 villages in south-eastern Chad since the start of this month, and at least 20 others have been abandoned by residents who feared attacks were imminent, the UN refugee agency said today.
“Altogether, we estimate some 75,000 Chadians have been forced to flee their villages over the past year – 12,000 of them since the latest series of attacks began on November 4,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.
“Information from survivors of the recent attacks south of Goz Beida show a pattern over the past 12 days in which villages were surrounded by armed men – some in military uniforms – on horses and camels. In some cases, the attackers also used rocket propelled grenades, witnesses said.
“Survivors describe their attackers as Arab nomad tribes, both Chadians and Sudanese. The testimonies are harrowing, including reports of babies, children, the elderly and infirm being burned alive in their houses because they were unable to flee.”
In addition, Mr. Redmond said UNHCR staff in eastern Chad had begun moving the first of some 1,500 newly-arrived Darfur refugees away from the Sudanese border to the agency’s camp at Kounoungou, one of 12 camps for some 218,000 refugees from Sudan in Chad, because of the increasing violence.
These Darfurians fled the bloody 29 October attack on Jebel Moon in West Darfur that left over 50 dead and many wounded, including two dozen children.
UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador and acclaimed actress Mia Farrow, who is currently on a three-day visit to Chad, has also issued a stark warning on the humanitarian situation.
“I came to Chad because of my deep involvement with Darfur, where I went in 2004 and most recently last June. I saw a similar landscape to what I saw in 2004 in Darfur,” she said after travelling from Abeche to Goz Beida and visiting the local hospital there, where she was shocked by the injuries inflicted on the villagers.
“In the hospital, there were three men who had had their eyes gouged out, something that I had never seen in my life before… I had to remind myself that I was in Chad and not in Darfur. Darfur has completely arrived in Chad.”
In a related development inside Darfur, escalating violence has forced thousands of women and children to flee their homes and take shelter in a camp in the southern part of the region, UNICEF said yesterday, noting that around 11,000 people had arrived at the Ottash Camp near Nyala in October alone.
“Most of them were mothers and children in dire need of shelter, food and water. Some of them had been hiding in the bushes since September when the trouble started, and they arrived at Ottash in a very bad way,” says UNICEF Programme Officer Narinder Sharma.
Yesterday after a high-level meeting in Ethiopia, Sudan’s Government agreed with the UN, the African Union (AU) and representatives from Security Council countries and others to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur alongside those of the AU mission already there trying to halt the bloodshed.
Details of the agreement are still being worked out but the deal comes after Sudan’s leaders previously refused to allow a UN force into the region despite the killings. At present, the UN assists a 7,000-strong African Union mission (AMIS) in Darfur and is currently working on a $21 million support package.
At least 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the strife-torn region as a result of the conflict between Government forces, allied militias and rebels seeking greater autonomy, and more than 2 million others have been displaced.