Somalia, in desperate need, must not be abandoned – UN humanitarian chief

Somalia, in desperate need, must not be abandoned – UN humanitarian chief

USG John Holmes
The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator today appealed to the Security Council to step up its efforts to quell the violence and end the suffering in Somalia.

“Otherwise, I fear the worst,” John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said as he briefed the 15-member body on his recent visit to Somalia and Northern Uganda.

Affirming that the UN has a responsibility “not to turn its back on Somalis in their latest hour of desperate need,” Mr. Holmes said that there has been recent massive displacement following the worst fighting in the 16 years that the East-African country has gone without a functioning government.

This has compounded the miseries of chronic food insecurity, alternating droughts and floods and endemic disease, he said.

As the highest-ranking UN official to visit the country since the early 1990’s, Mr. Holmes said his discussions with leaders of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – notably President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedhi – were complicated by disagreement on the severity of the crisis.

According to UN figures, 340,000 people, roughly one-third of the capital’s population, have fled the hostilities in Mogadishu since the start of February, while at least 1,000 have sustained injuries.

The TGF officials claimed that only 30,000 to 40,000 had been displaced and most had already returned.

At the same time, however, Mr. Holmes said that President Yusuf had accepted his proposal of a visit to Somalia by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to look into reports of indiscriminate use of force in civilian areas, arbitrary detentions and disappearances, and other human rights violations.

After his Government meetings, Mr. Holmes said he had a brief opportunity to walk through the narrow passageways of a makeshift site sheltering long-termed displaced in Mogadishu, trying to imagine the daily life of the throng of children following him, and the future in store for them.

“Not enough has been done to provide these people with basic conditions of human dignity,” he said.

Turning to Northern Uganda, which he called “more encouraging,” Mr. Holmes said the situation in the conflict-affected districts is improving and there is a degree of optimism in the air.

Security has increased with a major decline in attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the rebel group notorious for its abductions of children for child soldiers and sex slaves.

However, 1.6 million displaced people remain in camps, he said, even though the number is significantly down from its height of 2 million three years ago. Some are tentatively moving out of the camps toward their places of origin, “but this movement is not yet massive or irreversible,” he commented.

“These people are poised between hope and fear,” he concluded. “Hope that the day of their definitive return home may be close and fear that if the peace talks break down, renewed violence could again wrest this price from their grasp.

“I urge all concerned to do what they can to ensure that this perhaps unique opportunity is not missed,” he said.

During the discussion that followed Mr. Holmes’ presentation, a number of Security Council members urged the parties in both Somalia and North Uganda to allow humanitarian access and engage in serious dialogue to end their respective conflicts, with many saying they were encouraged by the agreement between the Ugandan Government and LRA.

They also called on the international community to continue to alleviate the suffering of the displaced, to enforce human rights norms and to increase pressure on the parties for political progress.