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Representative of the UN Secretary-General calls for Swift Action to Ensure Protection and Assistance for IDPs in Liberia

Francis M. Deng

Following is a statement issued today in Geneva by the Representative of
the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons,
Francis M. Deng:

The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally
Displaced Persons today voiced grave concern about the deteriorating plight
of internally displaced persons in Liberia and called for swift action to
ensure their protection and assistance.

The resumption of hostilities in Liberia in recent weeks has forced
hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee for their lives and safety, Dr.
Francis M. Deng said. The number of internally displaced persons in
Liberia continues to swell and their situation is worsening by the day.
Most lack access to food, clean water, medical care, and basic sanitation
facilities. Due to the prevailing situation of insecurity, international
humanitarian operations have virtually come to a halt, depriving people of
essential assistance for survival. Moreover, civilians’ physical safety
remains at severe risk. In recent days, there has been indiscriminate
mortar shelling of settlements and shelters where displaced persons have
sought refuge, including churches and a compound of the Office of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Looting, rape and
harassment of the civilian population by militia is reportedly widespread.
From all accounts, the humanitarian crisis has become truly catastrophic.

Of course, responsibility for ensuring the protection and assistance of
civilians rests first and foremost with their Government, Dr. Francis M.
Deng also said. However, when a Government is unable to do so, as is
clearly the case in Liberia, the international community, often acting in
partnership with regional actors, can and should be called upon to play a
role.

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The Representative reiterates the United Nations Secretary-General’s call
upon the parties concerned, and in particular the Liberians United for
Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel forces, to immediately cease
hostilities. He urges all armed actors to cooperate with the planned
deployment of forces by the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS) and any other international forces deployed with UN support so
that humanitarian operations can safely be resumed and that assistance and
protection be provided to populations in need without delay. As the
Secretary-General has said, the United States can lend crucial support to
ECOWAS in its planned efforts to bring security to the country and is
called upon to do so.

In addition to restoring security in the country generally, regional and
international forces have a critically important role to play in protecting
the internally displaced and other civilians at risk. This is a
responsibility that ECOWAS forces importantly have assumed in the region in
the past, though not always with full respect for human rights and
humanitarian standards. Respect by troops of human rights and humanitarian
law is essential to their effectiveness in protecting the displaced and
other civilian populations. The Representative urges that any regional or
other outside forces to be deployed be instructed and expected to abide by
international standards for the protection of civilians. Special attention
must be given to ensuring the protection of women and children, whose lack
of protection in West Africa’s conflicts has often been of particular
concern, especially with respect to sexual violence and exploitation.

Above all, the Representative appeals to the international community and
all relevant regional bodies to act swiftly to ensure that assistance and
protection are provided to internally displaced persons and all civilians
in need and at risk in Liberia.