15 July 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Chief, New York Office of UN High Commissioner for Human

Rights, on Report on Human Rights in Southern Kordofan, Sudan


Given the serious nature of “preliminary findings of preliminary allegations” to be included in a United Nations report on human rights in Southern Kordofan, which was expected to be finalized in the next 10 to 14 days, mechanisms for monitoring human rights in that area must be agreed, now that the mandate of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) had ended, a top human rights official said during a press conference at Headquarters today.

Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke to correspondents following a briefing on the situation in Southern Kordofan to the Security Council by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.  He said that while the report on human rights in Southern Kordofan would be finalized in the next two weeks, the allegations it was expected to contain were already “disturbing”.  They included indiscriminate aerial attacks and shelling, as well as abduction and extra-judicial killings.

“[United Nations] staff has also been targeted,” he said, reporting that eight staff members had been abducted and one independent contractor was killed, while another staff member had been shot in the legs.  He added that “reliable secondary sources” had also reported the existence of mass graves, although, because of reduced mobility, the United Nations had been unable to independently verify that information.

Noting that the human rights report would cover the period from 4 June to the end of the month, he said developments since had indicated an increased intensity in attacks, including aerial assaults on civilian settlements in the Nubian mountains.  He underscored that after 9 July, the United Nations had lost both its mandate and its presence in the area, resulting in what his Office considered to be a “dangerous monitoring gap in the whole of Sudan, and especially in Southern Kordofan”.

In that context, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) would be sending an assessment mission to the area to try to establish modalities for human rights monitoring in those new conditions, he said, adding his hope that the Government of Sudan would allow that mission to access Southern Kordofan.

Pointing to a second monitoring problem related to Abyei, he said the Security Council recently adopted resolution 1990 (2011) requesting the Secretary-General to monitor human rights in the area, but did not provide for an adequate civilian component, which would incorporate human rights officers.  While a large number of such officers were not needed, an adequate civilian component was.

The Secretary-General’s spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, recalled that during a meeting in Khartoum with Sudan’s Foreign Minister last week, the Secretary-General had urged the Sudanese Government to put mechanisms in place to ensure that human rights monitoring could continue in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and had underlined the need for unfettered access by United Nations personnel.  The Secretary-General also had said he was extremely concerned about the violence in Southern Kordofan and its impact on civilians and had underlined the need for a ceasefire as a matter of priority.  With the United Nations mandate having run out, gaps in monitoring could not be afforded.

Asked if the United Nations presence in those areas of Sudan was entirely based on the mandate of the now-expired UNMIS, Mr. Šimonović said it was, stressing that even before the end of operation on 9 July, human rights monitoring had faced difficulties, owing to fighting and restrictions on movement.  But the human rights monitors still had been able to talk to internally displaced persons to get information on human rights developments.  Even that was now no longer possible, he said.

Responding to a question on whether the human rights monitoring operation in Sudan was a part of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, he said it formed the human rights component of the peacekeeping operation there.  That civilian component had dual reporting duties to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and to the High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva.  In that regard, every report had to be cleared by the High Commissioner to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for release.

Asked about allegations that UNMIS peacekeepers had been “too passive” during a build-up of Sudanese Government forces, he said there was always a certain tension between the human rights component — which sought access and mobility, as well as the ability to verify allegations and protect civilians — and those in charge of security, which was obviously a serious concern.

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For information media • not an official record