The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Dr. Francis M. Deng, issued the following statement today after his just-completed mission to the Sudan focusing on the crisis in the Darfur region:
At the invitation of the Government, I visited the Sudan from 25 July to 1 August 2004. The visit focused on the internal displacement crisis in the Darfur region, which now affects about 1.2 million persons. During a part of the mission, I was accompanied by the Commissioner-General of the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC). In addition to meetings with Government representatives in Khartoum, I visited the three states of Northern, Southern and Western Darfur where I met with the local state Governors (Walis), Ministers, Government officials, NGOs, the Cease Fire Commission of the African Union, and United Nations officials. In all three states I visited a number of sites hosting internally displaced persons as well as a village in Western Darfur to which a number of previously displaced persons were reported to have recently returned. In Western Darfur I joined the mission of the Joint Implementation Mechanism (JIM) established to monitor the implementation of the joint communiqué of 3 July 2004 of the Government of the Sudan and the United Nations.
I had hoped to visit the country earlier, but had been forced to postpone my mission due to a number of factors. By the time of the visit, Darfur had drawn much international attention and high level visits, including by the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, and other prominent international personalities. The question was what value such a mission would bring to the situation. I decided that I had to undertake the mission and dialogue with the authorities in my dual capacity both as Representative of the Secretary-General and as a Sudanese with a particular concern for my country and its people. And indeed, throughout my discussions with the authorities and the internally displaced I emphasized that dual identity. From that vantage point, I called for intimate and candid probing into the situation to explore the truth as a basis for a constructive dialogue in the search for effective solutions to the crisis. My discussions with the authorities were indeed privileged by openness, candour and cordiality, and for this I am very grateful.
On the substantive issues, contrary to official statements about improvement of the security situation and the voluntary return of the displaced, I found a situation of persistent insecurity and human rights violations as the paramount concern of the displaced. While most of the displaced I spoke to expressed a desire to eventually return to their places of origin, they all strongly affirmed their unwillingness to return at this stage due to the prevailing situation of insecurity, mainly because of continued attacks by the so-called Janjaweed militia and other armed actors. In the presence of Government officials, the displaced, encouraged by both myself and the HAC Commissioner-General to speak freely, complained about the pressure some officials exerted upon them to return. Some displaced persons were reported to have returned at one stage, but had again been displaced by attacks. The very few returnees with whom I spoke found themselves in a very precarious and unsustainable situation, in constant fear of attacks. While the displaced appeared to be in relative safety inside the camps, they were generally fearful of venturing outside.
Although eventual return is the aspiration of most, if not all internally displaced persons, it is absolutely essential that all displaced should be guaranteed the right to remain in areas of displacement. Return will only be sustainable if the right to return voluntarily in safety and dignity is respected at all times.
I was particularly concerned about many accounts and reports of persistent rape of women outside the camps. I wish to emphasize the need to protect displaced women from gender-based violence and urge the Government to ensure that rape victims should be unconditionally guaranteed access to medical and other treatment and the perpetrators brought to justice.
I was pleased to hear the authorities, particularly the Minister of Justice, who, although raising the difficulty of obtaining evidence, emphasized the Government policy against impunity and the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for criminal offences, in particular war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A positive development with regard to the protection of the displaced was the recent agreement between the Government and the United Nations to place eight United Nations human rights monitors in the region, although the view was widely expressed that the numbers were insufficient compared to the needs and should be substantially increased.
With regard to humanitarian action, I found that while improved access had been observed in some cases due to a more facilitating role played by the Government, assistance was still hampered by insecurity, shortfall in donor response and administrative obstacles maintained by the authorities, such as the advance notification to the authorities regarding humanitarian flights as well as visas of limited duration for humanitarian workers. The onset of the rainy season was expected to further complicate the situation. The Government of the Sudan should therefore further intensify its cooperation with the international humanitarian community in a transparent and open manner aimed at ensuring swift, effective and sustained assistance and protection for the displaced. There is also an urgent need for the donors to bridge the shortfall and for the humanitarian community to significantly increase the number of staff in the region. In the immediate and medium term an urgent priority is to ensure that the required humanitarian assistance and protection reach all the displaced in Darfur.
I was pleased to learn from the HAC Commissioner-General that in formulating official policy and programmes of action for the internally displaced, the Government had made use of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which provide a solid framework based on international humanitarian, human rights and analogous refugee law to address situations of internal displacement, such as the one in Darfur. Nevertheless, I urged the Government and others concerned to enhance their use of the Guiding Principles in responding to the Darfur crisis.
Addressing the insecurity situation must be the absolute priority. The Government needs to enter into close and transparent collaboration with the international community. The Janjaweed militia need to be neutralized or pacified. Despite Government denials of cooperation with the Janjaweed, reliable evidence suggests that they had played a pivotal role in confronting a devastating attack on the Government forces by the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement and Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). This initial alliance and the enhanced military capacity of the Janjaweed and other armed elements makes it more pragmatic for the Government to work closely with the international community in finding appropriate measures for conveniently removing their threat. Since the internally displaced and other civilians in the conflict zones are fearful of all security forces, including the local and national police, international technical cooperation through special training on the ground and possible deployment of civilian police (CIVPOL) or other police officers from African Union countries could help foster confidence in national police protection.
These security measures should go hand in hand with ensuring strict adherence to the ceasefire agreement between the parties to the conflict. All attacks on the civilian population must cease. The positive role played by the African Union Cease Fire Commission should be developed and enhanced as it has already shown to have the potential of building confidence between the parties.
A comprehensive, peaceful and negotiated settlement of the conflict is necessary to address the root causes of displacement and the grievances of the people of Darfur. The positive experiences made in the context of the peace process in the South, especially the provisions relating to the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile, can be effectively employed in the context of Darfur. The parties should therefore urgently agree to a comprehensive cessation of hostilities and resume negotiations for a political settlement. Conversely, failure to manage the Darfur crisis constructively could eventually jeopardize the peace achievement in the South thereby undermining international efforts in resolving the conflict, and plunge the country into yet another catastrophe.
The tragedy the Sudan has been going through for decades, initially extended to the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile, and now dramatized by the unfolding crisis in Darfur, signifies a nation in painful search of itself and striving to be free from any discrimination due to race, ethnicity, religion or culture in any region. In view of this pervasive challenge, the country is called upon to transform itself and forge a new common and inclusive framework of national identity in which all Sudanese would find a sense of belonging as citizens with equality and dignity of citizenship. Resisting this unfolding reality would be imprudent, unsustainable and self-defeating. It is time for a genuine national dialogue toward a comprehensive peace, security and stability.