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Darfur: UN Human Rights Council’s high-level mission to start trip tomorrow

Darfur: UN Human Rights Council’s high-level mission to start trip tomorrow

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to Darfur heads to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, tomorrow for meetings with African Union (AU) officials, the first leg of a two-week trip to evaluate the situation in the war-ravaged region of Sudan.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on the eve of departure, mission leader Jody Williams stressed that the five-member team wanted to come up with “recommendations that we hope are implementable [and] not just grand thoughts” after the visit.

“I hope that our mission will be able to make some recommendations… that the [Human Rights] Council can use to proceed,” she said.

The high-level mission has been tasked with assessing human rights in Darfur, which has witnessed countless instances of abuses, among them mass rape, abduction and forced relocation, since fighting broke out between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups in 2003.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million others displaced from their homes, and an estimated 4 million people now depend on aid to survive. Last month Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the situation “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”

After meeting AU officials in Addis Ababa, the mission is scheduled to head to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, for talks with Government officials and others, before proceeding on to Darfur itself.

Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba last month appointed Ms. Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigning against landmines, to lead the mission.

Its other members are: Mart Nutt, an Estonian parliamentarian and member of the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance; Bertrand Ramcharan, the former Acting and Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Patrice Tonda, Gabon’s Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Geneva; and Indonesian Ambassador Marakim Wibisono, President of the 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights. The members will serve in their personal capacity.

The human rights assessment mission will follow a five-day visit to West and South Darfur by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) senior official Judy Cheng-Hopkins to review the agency’s operations and determine way to better help the vast population of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Ms. Cheng-Hopkins, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, wraps up her visit tomorrow after talks with Government officials, AU peacekeepers, UN staff and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said leaders of the IDP camps told Ms. Cheng-Hopkins that they urgently need water supplies, latrines and better access to schools for children.

Ms. Pagonis said UNHCR’s efforts to assist IDPs are being restricted because of the volatile security situation, with a rising number of attacks against humanitarian workers, including the hijacking of vehicles.