29 January 2007 Calling the situation in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on Africa’s leaders to use the same unity of purpose and partnership with the UN that brought peace to Burundi and Sierra Leone in tackling the intractable issue.
“Together, we must work to end the violence and scorched-earth policies adopted by various parties, including militias, as well as the bombings which are still a terrifying feature of life in Darfur,” he told an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of the conflict between Sudanese Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups that has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced more than 2 million others.
“Life-saving humanitarian work must be allowed to resume, and civil society in Darfur must have a voice in the peace process. And we must persuade non-signatories to join, while building consensus for the urgent deployment of a UN-AU force on the ground,” he said, referring to rebel groups seeking greater autonomy who did not join in a peace accord signed last May.
In a 90-minute meeting on the summit sidelines with Sudanese President Omer Al-Bashir, Mr. Ban urged him and all parties to cease hostilities and grant humanitarian access. He told reporters afterwards that Mr Al-Bashir agreed to facilitate such access, and expressed willingness to cooperate with international efforts toward that end.
He said his Special Envoy on Darfur Jan Eliasson and AU Envoy Salim A. Salim would go to Khartoum and Darfur in early February to support peace-making efforts, and the President welcomed the mission. He also called for an early Government response to plans for a hybrid UN-AU force in Darfur of 17,000 peacekeepers and 3,000 police.
In his summit address, Mr. Ban also urged the leaders to bring unity of purpose to other intractable crises “that bleed like open wounds on the face of the Continent,” such as the conflicts in Somalia and Côte d’Ivoire. He noted how the UN-AU partnership helped to resolve the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where last November’s elections, the first in more than 40 years and the largest such support operation in UN history, were “a remarkable peacekeeping achievement.”
“Liberia, too, shines as an example of what can be achieved through our collective will for peace and security in Africa,” he added.
He drew on his own experiences as a child growing up in war-torn Korea in the 1950s to deliver a message of hope to Africa. “I have seen the hardship and hunger, the degradation and disease, that come with prolonged warfare,” he said. “Elderly women scavenging for scraps, toddlers weak from malnutrition and unsafe drinking water, buildings dilapidated, corn fields rotting, an infrastructure on its knees.
“This I witnessed as a young boy, and the images haunt me to this day. But I also witnessed how, through unity of purpose, my country was able to transform itself from a traumatized nation with a non-existent economy, into a vibrant, productive society and a regional economic power,” he added. “Let us bring the same unity of purpose to bear on development in Africa.”
Turning to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 to slash a host of social ills, such as extreme poverty and hunger, by 2015, Mr. Ban noted that some African countries had made remarkable progress, but much remained to be done.
He announced that he planned to convene in March a working group on Africa and the MDGs, “a coalition of the willing” of African stakeholders and international organizations and donors, to accelerate progress on the goals, which also seek to reduce maternal and infant mortality and provide access to health care and education.
He noted that AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are responsible for nearly 4 million African deaths every year, and he also cited the seventh MDG on ensuring environmental sustainability as an enormous challenge. “The time has come for the rest of the world to assist African countries in adapting to the effects of a warming planet, while strengthening efforts to mitigate climate change,” he said.
“How Africa fares in reaching the Millennium Development Goals is a matter of life and death for millions of Africans. It is also a test of the ability of the United Nations to carry out the mandate our membership has given us. It will be one of my priorities to ensure that we meet that test – and I will take steps to strengthen the Organization accordingly.”