16 March 2007 Sudanese Government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and rebel groups are guilty of serious human rights abuses and violations of international law in Darfur, where murders, rapes, acts of torture and arbitrary arrest occur with chilling frequency, the head of the United Nations High-Level Mission said today as she presented her report to the Human Rights Council.
Jody Williams, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told the Council that ineffective justice mechanisms, the free flow of weapons and a climate of impunity meant Darfur had become a stranger to the rule of law.
She said civilians had become the main target in the conflict, which has also exacerbated the underlying social and economic deprivation in Darfur.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others forced from their homes since 2003 when rebel forces first took up arms against the Sudanese Government. The conflict is threatening to spill over into neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The High-Level Mission’s report, published on Monday, calls on the Sudanese Government to cooperate with the deployment of the proposed hybrid UN-African Union (AU) force without delay and to give its full cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which may hold war crimes trials.
It also urges the international community to step up pressure, as individual Member States and through mechanisms such as the UN Human Rights Council, to ensure that the conflict ends, civilians are protected and the victims receive justice.
An independent national human rights commission should be created and the Sudanese Government should also immediately remove all obstacles to humanitarian assistance from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Ms. Williams said today.
The five-member mission was unable to get into Darfur because of visa restrictions, but still met hundreds of people and reviewed countless documents relating to the issue during its month of work that finished on 5 March. The mission visited Geneva, Addis Ababa and several cities and refugee camps in Chad.
Speaking after Ms. Williams presented the report to the Council in Geneva, Sudan’s representative Mohamed Ali Emardi said the report lacked impartiality and was part of a conspiracy against his country.
He said the international community had remained silent against those rebel groups which did not sign last year’s peace agreement that was supposed to end the fighting in Darfur, a vast region roughly the size of France.
Speaking to reporters later today, Ms. Williams said the mission’s members had known that their work would be challenged, and that the team had therefore been very careful to ensure that it operated entirely legally under its mandate, as well as in good faith, “always keeping in mind the needs of the people of Darfur.”
She added that the “responsibility to protect” principle had emerged because of the international community’s shame about its failure to act during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
“Many of the people that we met with in Chad, in the refugee camps, are giving up hope in the belief that the responsibility to protect doesn’t seem to have any meaning or relevance in their lives and in addressing the situation in Darfur.
“Responsibility to protect is supposed to be [about] protecting the people, not protecting the Government to retain its power to continue abusing those people.”