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Lacking visas, UN mission on Darfur to carry out work without visit to Sudan

Lacking visas, UN mission on Darfur to carry out work without visit to Sudan

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the situation inside Darfur will not go to Sudan as planned because of continued uncertainty over whether the high-level team could obtain visas.

In a statement released today in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, the five-member team said they would “proceed and collect all relevant information from locations outside the country.”

The team, which is headed by Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work campaigning against landmines, will stay on in Addis Ababa and visit other locations outside Sudan before returning to Geneva next Wednesday as scheduled.

The statement said the mission would then prepare to present its report on the trip for the Council’s fourth regular session next month.

The Council established the mission in December to probe the human rights situation in Darfur, which has been beset by 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.”

Since the mission began its work in Geneva on 5 February, it has held dozens of meetings and interviews with human rights specialists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community representatives, UN staff members, African Union (AU) officials and others.

Aside from Ms. Williams, the other members of the mission 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 Makarim Wibisono, President of the 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights. The members are serving in their personal capacity.

Before leaving on the mission, Ms. Williams told reporters that the 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 itinerary change to the Council mission was announced as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur and his African Union (AU) counterpart headed to El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state for a two-day series of meetings.

Jan Eliasson and the AU’s Salim Ahmed Salim will hold talks with local authorities, representatives for the region’s vast population of internally displaced persons (IDPs), UN and AU officials, and field commanders from the rebel groups which have not signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA).

The two envoys are in Sudan on a joint five-day mission to try to re-energize the stalled peace process in Darfur. They have already met with Government officials and a prominent former rebel in Khartoum, the capital.