Darfur: UN Rights Council holds special session; Annan calls for end to nightmare
The newly enhanced United Nations Human Rights Council today held a special session on Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, with top officials from Secretary-General Kofi Annan on down calling for immediate action to end the nightmare of civilian deaths, mass rape, millions uprooted, indiscriminate bombardment by Government planes and rebel abuses.
“It is essential that this Council send a clear and united message to warn all concerned, on behalf of the whole world, that the current situation is simply unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue,” Mr. Annan told the 47-member body in Geneva in a video address. “The people of Darfur cannot afford to wait another day. The violence must stop. The killings and other gross violations of human rights must end.”
He noted that in the last few weeks, fighting has escalated and conditions for the civilian population have got even worse with armed militias attacking with impunity, destroying dozens of villages, displacing thousands more to join the over 2 million already uprooted, and raping large numbers of women. Some 4 million people now need humanitarian aid.
“I urge you to lose no time in sending a team of independent and universally respected experts to investigate the latest escalation of abuses,” he said. “It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations, including by bringing to account those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed. That is the very least you can do to show the people of Darfur that their cries for help are being heard.”
Like Mr. Annan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour deplored the impunity with which human rights abusers are still able to act in the Darfur conflict between Government troops, allied militias and rebel forces, who took up arms in 2003 in pursuit of greater autonomy and economic development.
Nearly two years ago, a UN-appointed International Commission of Inquiry found that crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed, including mass killings of civilians, systematic rape of girls and women, torture, destruction of villages and burning of family homes. A sealed list of 51 names of alleged perpetrators was handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The same atrocities and violations of international humanitarian law, which led the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court in January 2005, keep occurring on a daily basis,” Ms. Arbour told the special session, the fourth the Council has held since its installation in June. The other three dealt with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon.
“In the past six weeks alone, 80,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, several hundred civilians, including women and children, have been killed,” she said. “Mass rape and other egregious human rights abuses have not subsided. A lack of accountability allows and even emboldens perpetrators to hold sway over the population in Darfur. The spill-over of the conflict has now engulfed parts of Chad and of the Central African Republic.”
She recited a litany of abuses: increased ground attacks on civilians by the Sudanese Armed Forces and large groups of armed men, many identified by eyewitnesses and victims; indiscriminate bombardment by Government planes; civilian casualties, displacement and pillaging of civilian property due to Government, militia, rebel and bandit attacks; hindrance of humanitarian access to people in need.
Threats of murder, sexual violence, other physical assault and robbery prevent internally displaced persons from leaving the camps and returning to their land, arbitrary arrest and detention as well as torture by Government security forces continue, credible evidence points to the Government’s upgrading the militias’ arsenals and mobility instead of disarming them as required by a peace agreements with some of the rebel groups, Ms. Arbour said.
“The gravity of the situation is compounded by the rebels’ abusive conduct,” she added. “They, too, are responsible for killing, raping, maiming, torturing and destroying the livelihoods of civilians who have the misfortune of standing in their destructive path. And they, too, must be held accountable for such violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as it applies to non-State actors.”
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland also underscored the continuing deterioration in Darfur, with violence and direct attacks against relief workers in the past few weeks forcing the relocation of by far the largest number of humanitarian workers since the conflict began. The Government has not even agreed to lift restrictions on aid workers beyond 31 January.
“What we need now is urgent action to ensure that we do not miss what may be our final opportunity to reverse the trends that are pushing Darfur and the region towards disaster,” he warned, appealing to the Council to maximize pressure on all sides. “I therefore appeal to you to set aside political divisions, and send the strongest possible and united signal that this Council will not tolerate one of the world’s gravest human rights crises to continue, or get infinitely worse.”
Sudanese representative Farah Mustafa accused Western media of repeating lies about what was occurring in Darfur and charged that the aim of the special session was not to protect human rights but to undermine the sovereignty of weak States. He said UN human rights reports accused the Government of perpetrating violations committed by other armed groups, which the international community failed to hold to account.
More than 70 other delegates spoke.