Both the Government and the rebels in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region bear responsibility for the immense humanitarian challenges there, while the rapid deployment of an enhanced United Nations force in neighbouring Chad is vital for improving the lot of refugees, the top UN relief official said today.
“There is plenty of room to criticize the Government of Sudan for continuing human rights violations, for not disarming the militias, for not always facilitating humanitarian relief, or for declaring a ceasefire [and] then almost immediately violating it,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the Security Council in a briefing on his recent visit to both Sudan and Chad.
“However the rebel movements have neither declared a cease-fire nor shown great readiness to engage in a political process, and are also not helping relief efforts. They have a lot to answer for, too.”
More than five years of fighting between Government forces, allied Janjaweed militia and rebel groups have killed an estimated 300,000 people and driven another 2.7 million from their homes, over 260,000 of them into Chad. A joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), slated to reach 26,000 personnel but now only 10,500-strong, is being deployed in the region.
Mr. Holmes said his discussions overall with the Sudanese authorities, “while frank at times,” took place in a constructive spirit. “We now need to see rapid results on the ground. We are also intensifying our contacts with the rebel movements to persuade them that they too must respect humanitarian personnel and aid efforts,” he added.
With the billion-dollar humanitarian operation in Darfur still the largest in the world, he said the critical humanitarian challenges were access and protection of civilians amid the uprooting of a further 315,000 people this year alone and “the dramatic increase” in attacks on humanitarians and their property.
As of 30 November, 261 vehicles had been hijacked and 172 compounds broken into. Rebel movements, or those linked to them, appear primarily responsible for the majority of “these terrifying incidents” in rural areas, but many also occur in main towns in Government control.
“I call on both the Government security forces and rebel leaders to put a stop to this banditry once and for all,” Mr. Holmes said. “It seriously damages the quality of assistance – just as one example, (UN) World Food Programme rations are still only at 70 per cent because of attacks on their convoys – and it damages the credibility of their promises to ensure our safety.”
He added that throughout his trip in Darfur, he was confronted with the pervasive risk of sexual violence. “I met many women who had the courage to speak out,” he said. “It was therefore particularly disturbing that programmes aimed at preventing or responding to this violence are under increased pressure from Government authorities.”
Turning to Chad, where 180,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 57,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as 263,000 Darfurians, are receiving humanitarian assistance, Mr. Holmes called for rapid deployment of the enhanced 6,000-strong UN Mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) to replace the 3,000-strong European Union Force (EUFOR).
EUFOR is due to leave eastern Chad, which has suffered from internal strife, rebel activity and a spill-over from the Darfur conflict, by March. Mr. Holmes said banditry had worsened and posed a significant threat to IDPs, refugees, aid workers and the local population.
But overall, he added, “I left Chad with slightly more optimism about future prospects, including in terms of our efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian aid, than I had expected. However, the risks of rapid deterioration remain high. The international community, and this Council, cannot afford to neglect Chad.”
Mr. Holmes also visited southern Sudan where a peace agreement in 2005 ended the north-south civil war that killed at least 2 million people and displaced 4.5 million others. Although the region is no longer a humanitarian emergency as such, it still has some of the worst child and maternal health indicators in the world, with maternal mortality twice as high as in Darfur and one child in seven dying under the age of five.
“The good news is that some 12,000 kilometres of roads have been de-mined, 3,000 water points rehabilitated, 2.4 million former IDPs and refugees returned, and primary school enrolment rates have risen dramatically,” he said. “Some of the “peace dividends” hoped for on the signing of the peace agreement have begun to appear. But there is a long way to go.”
In oil-rich Abyei in central Sudan, still contested by north and south despite the peace agreement, an estimated 50,000 people fled violence in May. Mr. Holmes stressed that most of the population would not return due to fear of renewed violence without progress on setting up local joint implementation and police units.
Asked by reporters afterwards about concerns over the impact of a possible arrest warrant from International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for allegedly committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, he repeated what he told the Council – that it is in everyone's interests to ensure the safety of humanitarians and to sustain the relief operation.
“I took every opportunity to remind the Government of Sudan of their fundamental responsibilities in this context. For our part we will do everything in our power to maintain our operations to help those in need.”