UNDER-SECRETARY GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON RECENT TRIP TO SOMALIA, NORTHERN UGANDA

21 May 2007
SC/9020

UNDER-SECRETARY GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON RECENT TRIP TO SOMALIA, NORTHERN UGANDA

21 May 2007
Security Council
SC/9020
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5677th Meeting (AM)

UNDER-SECRETARY GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL

ON RECENT TRIP TO SOMALIA, NORTHERN UGANDA

Says Somalia’s Humanitarian Needs Huge, Largely Unmet;

In Northern Uganda, Peaceful End to Intractable Conflict Possible

Somalia’s immediate humanitarian needs were huge and largely unmet so far, while in northern Uganda, the United Nations and the international community had the chance to bring to a peaceful end one of Africa’s most intractable conflicts, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council today.

Briefing the Council as it considered the humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, he noted that the recent massive displacement of people in the Somali capital of Mogadishu had further compounded one of the most difficult humanitarian situations in the world.  At the same time, his visit to Uganda had been aimed at discussing with the Government the challenges and opportunities in helping the displaced people of northern Uganda, those moving back towards their homes and others already returning home, against the background of some optimism about the Juba peace talks between the Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Noting that his visit to Somalia had been the first by a United Nations official of his level since the 1990s, he said late April’s deadly and intense fighting in Mogadishu had not only resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries, it had also caused almost 400,000 inhabitants to flee the city, and the vast majority of those who had fled had not yet returned.  Factors inhibiting larger-scale return included difficulties of movement, continued fear of violence, warnings by the Transitional Federal Government to long-standing internally displaced persons in Mogadishu not to return to so-called public buildings, and the fact that many people from areas badly damaged by the fighting now had no homes to return to.

Many of those concerned continued to live in deplorable conditions in the open countryside, sheltered only by trees, with minimal or no access to food, basic sanitation, clean water, shelter and medical care, he said.  Meanwhile, more than 30,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea and associated cholera had now been recorded in southern Somalia, including almost 1,000 related deaths.  In late April, harassment and intimidation of humanitarian staff, closure of strategic airstrips and administrative directives by the Transitional Federal Government had greatly obstructed humanitarian efforts.  Around 290,000 displaced people had so far been reached with non-food items, while the health and sanitation response had involved support for hospitals, provision of medicines and chlorination activities.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and CARE had together distributed food supplies to around 180,000 people.

However, assistance had not remotely matched the needs, and there were pockets of south and central Somalia that had remained inaccessible and obstacles to humanitarian access continued, he said.  President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi had given assurances of their commitment to help, but the discussion had been complicated by disagreement on the severity of the crisis, with the two leaders suggesting that only 30,000 to 40,000 people had been displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu, and that half of those had already returned.  The two leaders had also strongly underlined the need for relief organizations to cooperate more with the authorities and to relocate rapidly from Nairobi to Somalia.

He recalled his expression of concern to the Council on 24 April regarding severe breaches of international humanitarian law during the recent fighting, including indiscriminate use of massive force in civilian areas, apparently by all sides.  There had been many reports of abductions and unlawful killings, as well as concerns over the apparent arbitrary detention, deportation and disappearance of individuals.  President Ahmed, however, while rejecting any allegations of involvement by the Transitional Federal Government, had accepted the proposal of a visit to Somalia by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to look into those claims.

The biggest single contribution to humanitarian relief efforts would be the establishment of genuine stability, to enable people to return home freely and to begin re-establishing their lives, he stressed.  That could not come from a military solution, but from the inclusive political dialogue and reconciliation across the main political and other groups that the international community had been demanding.  Those efforts must be redoubled if there was to be any hope of a lasting peace, with the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces and the full deployment of an African Union force.  Otherwise, the chances of more long years of conflict, degradation and poverty were high.

Turning to northern Uganda, he said the situation in the conflict-affected districts was improving, as security had increased with the major decline in LRA attacks, and as the efforts of the Government and the international community to help the displaced had borne some fruit.  There was a degree of optimism in the air.  Night commuting to avoid abduction by LRA, once the tragic face of northern Uganda affecting 20,000 children, had largely ceased.  Nevertheless, there was a long distance still to go with 1.6 million displaced people remaining in camps, even though some of the numbers were significantly down from its height of 2 million three years ago.

A recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that a number of displaced people were tentatively moving out of the camps towards their places of origin, and some had already moved home permanently.  In the Acholi subregion, nearly three quarters of the 1.1 million internally displaced persons remained in their original camps and a quarter were now in new settlement sites nearer their homes, often commuting daily to their villages of origin.  Only 1 per cent, or just over 7,000 people, had so far returned permanently to their places of origin.

He said the situation presented a triple challenge that he had discussed with President Yoweri Museveni and members of his Government.  First, there was a need to continue providing vital humanitarian assistance to those still in camps.  Those who had either moved to new settlement sites or were commuting to their places of origin continued to need basic food and household items, but also required access to water and sanitation, health services and education.  Also, those who had returned home required a basic support package for the early stages and, more importantly, a large amount of development and reconstruction help to restart their normal agricultural livelihoods, with re-established infrastructure and social provision.

If the current positive trends continued, the coming challenges and opportunities could be clearly seen, he said.  There was a need to effect a seamless transition from relief to development, but that would not be possible without continued generous levels of funding.  In 2006, the consolidated appeal for Uganda had been 90 per cent funded but, worryingly, this year’s appeal was projected to be funded at only 50 per cent of its $303 million target.  WFP had already had to reduce its rations to internally displaced persons from 60 per cent to 40 per cent of full requirements.

The success of the peace process was the immediate key, he stressed, pointing out that the Juba talks, with the mediation of the Government of Southern Sudan and the facilitation of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for LRA-affected areas, were beginning to produce some results.   At the same time, the process was fragile, and the issue of International Criminal Court warrants would have to be addressed in a way that satisfied the requirements of both peace and justice.

Other speakers today were the representatives of Slovakia, Qatar, United Kingdom, Indonesia, France, Ghana, South Africa, Russian Federation, Congo, Italy, China, Panama, Peru, Belgium and United States.

The meeting began at 10:40 a.m. and ended at 12:40 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa.

Briefing by Emergency Relief Coordinator

JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said he had visited Somalia to assess first-hand the humanitarian situation and discuss with the authorities the key issues of access, protection of civilians and security of humanitarian operations.  The recent massive displacement had further compounded one of the most difficult humanitarian situations in the world.  His visit to Uganda had been aimed at discussing with the Government the challenges and opportunities in northern Uganda in helping displaced people in camps, those moving towards their homes and others already returning home, against the background of some optimism about the Juba peace talks.

Noting that his visit to Somalia had been the first by a United Nations official of his level since the 1990s, he said late April’s deadly and intense fighting in Mogadishu had not only resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries, but had also caused almost 400,000 inhabitants to flee the city.  While some return was taking place, the vast majority of those who had fled had not yet returned.  Factors inhibiting larger-scale return included difficulties of movement, continued fear of violence, warnings by the Transitional Federal Government to long-standing internally displaced persons in Mogadishu not to return to so-called public buildings, and the fact that many people from areas badly damaged by the fighting now had no homes to return to.

Many of those concerned continued to live in deplorable conditions in the open countryside, sheltered only by trees, with minimal or no access to food, basic sanitation, clean water, shelter and medical care, he said.  One particular concern was the plight of pregnant women having to deliver without medical help.  Meanwhile, more than 30,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea and associated cholera had now been recorded in southern Somalia, including almost 1,000 related deaths.  In late April, harassment and intimidation of humanitarian staff, closure of strategic airstrips and administrative directives by the Transitional Federal Government had greatly obstructed humanitarian efforts.  Around 290,000 displaced people had so far been reached with non-food items, while the health and sanitation response had involved support for hospitals, provision of medicines and chlorination activities.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and CARE had together distributed food supplies to around 180,000 people.

However, assistance had not remotely matched the needs and there were pockets of south and central Somalia, which had remained inaccessible and obstacles to humanitarian access continued, he said.  Unfortunately, piracy was also hindering WFP’s ability to move food by sea, while private contractors hired by humanitarian agencies to deliver aid were having problems with land convoys.  During the visit to Mogadishu, President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi had given assurances of their full commitment to helping.  However, the discussion had been complicated by disagreement on the severity of the crisis, with the two leaders suggesting that only 30,000 to 40,000 people had been displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu, and that half of those had already returned to the capital.

The two leaders had also strongly underlined the need for relief organizations to cooperate more with the authorities and to relocate rapidly from Nairobi to Somalia, he said, adding that he had, in turn, raised the fate of the approximately 250,000 long-standing urban displaced in Mogadishu, a significant number of whom were from the Haawiye clan.  Internally displaced persons living in public buildings were unable to return, given the Government’s stated intention to repossess those buildings and its failure to suggest an alternative sustainable solution other than a return to their areas of origin.  While the Government’s intention to reinstate public institutions was understandable, it was imperative that alternative solutions be identified for the highly vulnerable segment of the population.

He recalled his expression of concern to the Council on 24 April regarding reports of severe breaches of international humanitarian law during the recent fighting, including indiscriminate use of massive force in civilian areas, apparently by all sides.  There had been many reports of abductions and unlawful killings, as well as concerns over the apparent arbitrary detention, deportation and disappearance of individuals.  President Ahmed, however, while rejecting any allegations of Transitional Federal Government involvement, had accepted a proposal of a visit to Somalia by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to look into those claims.

The biggest single contribution to humanitarian relief efforts would be the establishment of genuine stability, to enable people to return home freely and to begin re-establishing their lives, he said.  That could not come from a military solution, but from the inclusive political dialogue and reconciliation across the main political and other groups that the international community had been demanding.  Those efforts must be redoubled if there was to be any hope of a lasting peace, with the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces and the full deployment of an African Union force.  Otherwise, the chances of more long years of conflict, degradation and poverty were high.

Turning to northern Uganda, he said he had returned from there with the belief that the Ugandan Government and the international community now had the opportunity to resolve one of Africa’s major humanitarian emergencies, through support for the political process in Juba, continuing humanitarian aid and the transition from relief to recovery.  The situation in the conflict-affected districts was improving, as security had increased with the major decline in attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and as the efforts of the Government and the international community to help the displaced had borne some fruit.  There was a degree of optimism in the air.  Night commuting to avoid abduction by LRA, once the tragic face of northern Uganda affecting 20,000 children, had largely ceased.

Nevertheless, there was a long distance still to travel, he said, noting that 1.6 million displaced people remained in camps, even though some of the numbers were significantly down from its height of 2 million three years ago.  A recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that a number of displaced people were tentatively moving out of the camps towards their places of origin, and some had already moved home permanently.  In the Acholi subregion, nearly three quarters of the 1.1 million internally displaced persons remained in their original camps and a quarter were now in new settlement sites nearer their homes, often commuting daily to their villages of origin.  Only 1 per cent, or just over 7,000 people, had so far returned permanently to their places of origin.

In Lang’o, further from the sensitive border area, the situation was more encouraging, he said, with only one quarter of the 477,000 displaced people remaining in camps, while the more than 350,000 remaining people had already returned home.  In the Kitgum district of Acholi, residents had said they would not feel safe enough to return home until a final peace deal was reached.  They had also said that a full return was not possible until there were basic services, such as water, health care and education in their original home areas.  A similar message had been received from Namokora camp, home to some 17,000 displaced.

He said the situation, with most people still in camps, some in half-way house satellite areas and others already beginning to return home, presented a triple challenge that he had discussed with President Yoweri Museveni and members of his Government.  First, there was a need to go on providing vital humanitarian assistance to the 1.6 million people still in camps.  Those who had either moved to new settlement sites or were commuting to their places of origin continued to need basic food and household items, but also required access to water and sanitation, health services and education.  Those who returned to their homes required a basic support package for the early stages, but, more importantly, needed a large amount of development and reconstruction help to restart their normal agricultural livelihoods, with re-established infrastructure and social provision.

If the current positive trends continued, the coming challenges and opportunities could be clearly seen, he said.  There was a need to effect a seamless transition from relief to development, not something for which the international community had always been distinguished.  The Government, with the support of the World Bank and the international aid community, was working up a “Peace, Recovery and Development Plan”, which, if implemented progressively in parallel with the continuing humanitarian relief efforts, would need the full commitment of everyone, if it was to succeed.  None of that would be possible without continued generous levels of funding.  In 2006, the consolidated appeal for Uganda had been 90 per cent funded, but, worryingly, this year’s appeal was projected to be funded at only 50 per cent of its $303 million target.  WFP had already had to reduce its rations to internally displaced persons from 60 per cent to 40 per cent of full requirements.

The success of the peace process was the immediate key, he stressed.  The Juba talks, with the mediation of the Government of Southern Sudan and the facilitation of Joaquim Alberto Chissano, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for LRA-affected areas, were beginning to produce some results.  At the same time, the process was fragile and the issue of International Criminal Court warrants would have to be properly addressed in a way that satisfied the requirements of both peace and justice.  No one was following the process with more intense concentration than the displaced, which had been the clear message from a group of former child abductees.

In conclusion, he pointed out that, in Somalia, the immediate humanitarian needs were huge and largely unmet so far, while in northern Uganda, the United Nations and the international community, working closely with the Government, had the chance to bring to a peaceful end one of Africa’s most intractable conflicts and make a real success of the return to their homes of the displaced people of northern Uganda.

Statements

PETER BURIAN ( Slovakia) understood the thrust of the briefing about the severity and magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.  The international community must strengthen its efforts to help the Transitional Federal Institutions provide humanitarian relief to the hundreds of thousands of people in dire need.  He called on the Somali parties to stop the bloodshed, engage in genuine dialogue and begin an inclusive reconciliation process leading to a lasting and sustainable solution to the conflict.  He strongly condemned the recent attacks of piracy, impeding the ability to feed 1 million Somalis.  All necessary steps should be undertaken by the international community to stop the attacks, protect humanitarian aid ships and establish safe corridors.  Perpetrators of those crimes must be brought to justice.

He said he agreed with Mr. Holmes that the Transitional Federal Government must assume responsibility to look after civilians and provide a more enabling environment for aid workers, and that the Somali parties must extend their cooperation in that regard.  He shared the concern about the grave violations of international humanitarian law.  Women and children remained highly vulnerable.  Children were targeted for recruitment and abduction, and the sexual violence against women and girls persisted, particularly among the internally displaced persons.  He fully supported the need to implement Security Council resolution 1744 (2007).  Efforts must be redoubled, if there was any hope for lasting peace.  He underlined the urgent need for full deployment of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to stabilize the situation on the ground and create the conditions for the peace process.

In northern Uganda, he said he was pleased to note the gradual return of internally displaced persons, but he was still concerned about the humanitarian crisis affecting 1.6 million people there.  It was essential to use the current window of opportunity to bring that long-lasting conflict to a final and lasting resolution without compromising the principles of international justice.  The international community should continue to support the recovery and assist people’s return to their homes.  He was concerned about the children affected by the armed conflict, especially those still held in the ranks of LRA.  He fully supported the Secretary-General’s call to take steps to end the recruitment of child soldiers.

JAMAL NASSER AL-BADER ( Qatar) said he agreed with the Under-Secretary-General that the humanitarian situations in Uganda and Somalia were among the worst in the world, and must be urgently confronted.  Furthermore, the people in both regions had been suffering for more than a decade now.  In considering the root causes of the situations, there were two: a deteriorating economic situation; and continuing strife and political upheaval.  They were interlinked, and the Security Council must take that and the humanitarian situation into consideration when studying items related to the two regions.

Having received two reports recently from the Secretary-General on the human rights situation in Somalia and Uganda, and heard a report on the situation of children in both countries, he said there were many indications of deterioration.  He welcomed the agreement between the Government of Uganda and LRA concerning humanitarian assistance and assistance to the internally displaced to return to their homes.  He joined other Council members in underlining the need for cooperation between United Nations bodies in rendering humanitarian assistance to civilians, particularly the most vulnerable.  Further, he called on the parties to the conflict in the regions to commit to protecting civilians and not to take any measures that endangered them or impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom) said the Under-Secretary-General had shone a sobering spotlight on the situations in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa.  The United Kingdom had made both Somalia and northern Uganda areas for priority action and invited other delegations to do the same.  The United Kingdom also wished to express its deep regret over the 16 May attacks in which Ugandan peacekeepers had lost their lives.  The briefing had also set out the stark situation in south and central Somalia, where the population was highly vulnerable to diseases.  It must be made clear that responsibility for ending the conflict in Somalia lay with the Transitional Federal Government, through a genuinely inclusive political process.

Welcoming President Ahmed’s assurance that the Government would allow an investigation by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), she also welcomed the Under-Secretary-General’s early visit to northern Uganda, which had suffered such massive human rights violations for the past two decades.  The United Kingdom also welcomed his discussions with the Government of Uganda with regard to its obligations in the north.  She commended Mr. Chissano’s pivotal role in facilitating the Juba peace talks and his contribution to the cessation of hostilities agreement.  Both sides must remain focused on working out a comprehensive peace deal.  The challenge ahead was to move forward from conflict to peace, recovery and development.

HASAN KLEIB ( Indonesia) said that the humanitarian situation in the regions was indeed deeply troubling, particularly given the enormity of the humanitarian needs in Somalia following its recent crisis.  He was, nonetheless, encouraged by the gradual improvements in the Great Lakes region as peace slowly emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Uganda.  In Somalia, he deeply regretted Mogadishu’s return to conflict and instability, especially after it had enjoyed some measure of peace and stability last year.  Already, many had referred to the current situation as the worst humanitarian crisis since the early 1990s, as an estimated 300,000 people had fled Mogadishu due to heavy fighting in recent months.  In addition, 1.8 million people were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.  All sides in Somalia must respect international humanitarian law, protect civilians and allow humanitarian access to those in need.

He said that the situation was a direct consequence of the continued failure among Somalis to find a political settlement to their differences.  The urgent start of an all-inclusive national reconciliation process was, therefore, imperative.  In the final analysis, the Somali problem was for Somalis to resolve; the international community could only encourage the process.  He commended the African Union for its efforts towards an early solution, including through the deployment of AMISOM, and he deeply deplored the recently killing of AMISOM personnel.  The humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region was also grave, although he was hopeful that the current political resolution of some conflicts, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Uganda, would bring relief.  In Uganda, he supported the “triple efforts” approach being undertaken by the humanitarian community.  That involved providing aid to those still in camps, helping the returns and supplying early recovery aid for those who had already returned home.  Coordination between humanitarian organizations and the local authorities was imperative, if the operation was to enjoy local ownership and be sustainable. 

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE ( France) said the Under-Secretary-General’s forced shortening of his stay to Mogadishu confirmed concerns about the severity of the situation in Somalia.   The Transitional Federal Government must stop questioning the scale of the humanitarian situation that had resulted from the heavy fighting there.  It was unacceptable that only a third of those who had fled had access to humanitarian assistance, and that members of the Haawiye clan could not return to their homes.

He said the Government must allow transit by WFP convoys, facilitate access by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and help, rather than impede, major humanitarian organizations, such as Médecins sans frontiers, willing to work in Somalia.  It must also ensure the removal of illegal checkpoints.  The Government must follow up with action the commitments it had made during the Under-Secretary-General’s visit.  It must issue strong instructions to the armed forces and the militias regarding the violence, and finally commit itself to a genuine, inclusive political process, which was the only way to achieve peace.

Paying tribute to the African Union force that had paid the highest price in Somalia, he also expressed concern over the situation in northern Uganda, even though some progress had been made since the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement.  It was unlikely that those who had fled their homes would return, unless there was lasting peace.  France reiterated its support for Mr. Chissano and the Juba talks.  France understood that humanitarian assistance could not be downsized at the present stage until development assistance took over, particularly in the areas of education and health.

NANA EFFAH-APENTENG ( Ghana) said he was saddened that so many in the region continued to live in deplorable conditions.  He was also very concerned about reports that the start of the rainy season would lead to outbreaks of disease.  The protection of civilians posed significant challenges because of insecurity.  Until the Governments made “space” for humanitarian activities, those activities would be restricted.  He noted the good work being done by the humanitarian agencies despite the constraints, but much more remained to be done.  He called on the international community to do more to assist the agencies.  He welcomed the expressed desire by the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia to cooperate in coordinating humanitarian activities.

He said he was also encouraged by the agreement between the Ugandan Government and LRA.  He hoped both would remain committed to non-violence, with the aim of bringing an end to the displacement, deprivation and suffering of the people of northern Uganda.  There were also signs of cooperation between the Government and the United Nations.  The former had deployed police personnel, as part of its emergency humanitarian action plan.  While there was general improvement in the security situation and some internally displaced were returning, many problems remained and insecurity persisted.  He urged the Ugandan Government to ensure that the basic needs of its people were provided, so that the returns could enjoy adequate reintegration.  He commended the “triple effort” proposal and protection for northern Ugandans.

DUMISANI S. KUMALO ( South Africa) commended the courage and sense of urgency that the Under-Secretary-General had brought regarding the situation in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa.  He had made a moving presentation, particularly in pointing out that his mere presence in Somalia had given hope to many people who had given up on the United Nations and felt that the Organization had forgotten them.  His presence had given hope to those living under the most difficult circumstances.

As difficult as the situation may be, the solution lay in a fully inclusive political process, whereby all Somalis, within and outside the country’s borders, could come together and seek a way out of the tragedy that had befallen their country.  South Africa paid tribute to the humanitarian workers trying to ensure that the sorely needed humanitarian access was forthcoming.  He hoped the support that the international community could give to the Transitional Federal Government and to the non-governmental people on the ground would help the Somali people overcome their difficulties.

Regarding northern Uganda, he said he was encouraged at the improvement in the situation there, adding that the Under-Secretary-General had brought “a dose of sobriety” regarding the measures needed.  Sometimes, the international community was moved by conditions requiring relief.  But, development, which required more time and a longer commitment, became very difficult to carry out, particularly when the international community felt the impatience to move on to the next crisis.  The Under-Secretary-General had given the Council a basis on which it could build, in order to bring about a change to both regions.

VITALY I. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) called on all the powers and all parties in Somalia to do everything possible to eliminate the barriers to humanitarian assistance.  The current humanitarian crisis was due to a lack of political settlement.  Overcoming the consequences of the crisis could be ensured only through broad-based dialogue, in which there was an important role to be played by the Congress of National Reconciliation, as called for by the Somali President.  He also supported the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping force, and offered his condolences to the Government of Uganda on the death of Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia.  He hoped that the ceasefire between the Ugandan Government and LRA would lead to a resolution of the conflict and help create stability in a region where the borders of several African countries converged.

BASIL IKOUEBE ( Congo) said that the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region faced persistent armed conflict.  Some causes of hope had emerged, such as improved food security in Ethiopia and Kenya, but the overall picture still contained far too many reasons for concern.  Mr. Holmes had been an eyewitness to an unbearable situation.  He had emphasized the need for the Council and the international community to continue to accompany the efforts of the countries and the organizations in the region.  Those efforts should focus primarily on economic and social development assistance, in order to lay the foundation for lasting peace and development.  He invited the leaders and parties to conflict to take responsibility themselves and act so that the international community, which could only accompany their efforts, could provide assistance in the long term.

He stressed that all the political protagonists must take responsibility for the situation, as it was their behaviour that fuelled the difficult situations.  A reduction of the humanitarian crisis could be based on such elements as improving early warning; stepping up access to basic education and health services; multiplying small, commercial and agricultural enterprises; improving crops; and creating favourable conditions for farming that were less vulnerable to natural conditions.  The main condition, however, was the durable settlement of armed conflict.  Of course, good governance and respect for human rights were also crucial, but all must rest on improvements in the economic and social situation.

ALDO MANTOVANI (Italy), condemning the use of force by all sides, called on all parties to comply with international humanitarian law and urged the Somali authorities, in particular, to do their utmost to remove obstacles to the free movement of aid and humanitarian relief workers into and throughout the country.  Italy called also on countries in the region to facilitate the cross-border provision of aid.  It would be useful to know whether the Transitional Federal Government’s inter-ministerial committee had started to make any difference for the humanitarian community.

Only genuine political dialogue and reconciliation, as set out in the Transitional Federal Charter, could bring about a solution to the Somali conflict, he said.  The early convening of a national reconciliation congress involving all components of Somali society was paramount in that regard, and the Transitional Federal Institutions were urged to make such an event as meaningful and inclusive as possible.  Italy called on all parties to show continued restraint and supported the present talks between the Transitional Federal Government, Ethiopian troops and clan elders of Mogadishu, aimed at consolidating the cessation of hostilities.

He said he felt encouraged by the Under-Secretary-General’s findings in northern Uganda, which hinted at an improvement of the humanitarian situation.  That positive evolution proved that a sound political process, led and managed by the region with the full support of the whole international community, could have an immediate impact on the affected population.  Italy believed it was time to start thinking about resettlement and reconstruction for northern Uganda, and the Italian delegation would be interested to know more about Government cooperation in that regard.

LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that violence was increasing in some areas of Somalia and piracy was rampant, affecting livelihoods and international navigation safety.  In the Sudan, the continuing conflict in Darfur had seriously affected relief and humanitarian assistance efforts.  In Chad and the Central African Republic, the refugee effort was threatened.  In Uganda, although the Government had resumed talks with LRA and the humanitarian situation in the north had improved, the country was still confronted by a lack of funding.  To deal with the problems, a holistic approach must be adopted that tackled both the humanitarian crisis and the root causes of the conflict.  The crisis was closely linked to political and security problems, as well as to development concerns.  Relief measures should be adopted that yielded immediate results, and drastic policy measures should seek to rid the regions of deeply rooted causes of conflict.

He called for vigorous advocacy of social harmony and unity, and assistance for African economic development and poverty eradication.  Improvement of the humanitarian situation in Africa hinged on the joint efforts of the countries concerned and the international community.  He commended the Ugandan Government for having resumed talks with LRA and hoped the progress in the political process would ease the humanitarian situation in the area.  He also supported the international community’s diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the Darfur problem.  The international community should assist Chad and the Central African Republic in internally displaced returns.  Further, it should adopt a holistic approach to the humanitarian problem in Africa, while bringing into play each country’s advantages.

ALFREDO SUESCUM ( Panama) said that, as a first step, the Government of Somalia must recognize the magnitude of the humanitarian situation and redouble its efforts to hold a national reconciliation congress.  Today’s briefing showed that the outbreaks of violence there continued, including the one on 12 May that had cut short the Under-Secretary-General’s visit, and the terrible attack four days later that had cost the lives of four Ugandan soldiers.  There were also reports of abuses against retailers in Mogadishu by the municipal authorities.  The common denominator in both Somalia and northern Uganda was the serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Regarding the reluctant involvement of children in the conflicts, he said the situation in northern Uganda painted an even darker picture.  As long as the recruitment and use of children persisted, the commitment of the authorities and other parties involved in the conflict to protecting their rights would remain dubious.  Panama called upon the parties to increase the representation of women at the Juba talks.  It was also indispensable to combat impunity, as the responsibility to respect human rights standards should not be negotiable.

Any agreement between the Government and LRA must be consistent with international law, ruling out amnesty for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, he said.  As for Somalia, Panama reiterated its request for the prompt deployment of African Union forces, so that Ethiopian troops could withdraw and leave the regional force to support the Uganda contingent already in Mogadishu.  Only through dialogue could lasting solutions be found to both sad situations.  Panama called for the convening of a national reconciliation congress in Somalia, and urged the parties in Uganda not to waste the opportunity before them.

JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) condemned the attacks against the African Union troops in Mogadishu, causing the death of four peacekeepers and injuring several more people, including children.  The Somali Government and political groups were squandering the opportunity to find a solution to the lengthy crisis.  He called on the Transition Federal Government to commit to securing full access for humanitarian workers and to give permission for the necessary transit, so that food aid could reach those who needed it.  The Council must urgently examine how to confront the humanitarian crisis.  The lack of security and humanitarian access threatened to unravel all political efforts towards stability.  An inclusive dialogue and genuine political process were the only means to bring about sustainable peace.

He commended the parties in northern Uganda and hoped the talks would provide an opportunity to rebuild the society there.  He urged the rejection of impunity and full respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  National capacities in Uganda must be strengthened, leading to pacification and reconciliation.  All of that required financial and logistical support, and the international community should continue to support the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.  LRA must free the women, children and non-combatants it held hostage.  He was, meanwhile, grateful for the work of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Mr. Chissano, in relaunching the peace talks, as well as to the Government of Southern Sudan for its mediation effort.

OLIVIER BELLE ( Belgium) said that the movement of hundreds of thousands of people in and around Mogadishu, and the abduction of humanitarian workers there were sad examples of the security and humanitarian situation.  He appealed to the Somali authorities to do everything possible to facilitate access and the provision of humanitarian assistance, and he called on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians, particularly women and children.  He commended the authorization given to OHCHR to investigate human rights violations in Somalia.  Dialogue and an inclusive political process were essential, in order to consolidate the Transitional Federal Institutions and re-establish the country as a whole.  The reconciliation congress announced by the Government was of vital importance.  It was also crucial to consolidate the ceasefire, as well as security around Mogadishu.  For the sake of security and stability, the international community must support AMISOM’s deployment.

On Uganda, like previous speakers, he acknowledged some improvement of the security and humanitarian situation in the north.  However, nearly 1 million displaced persons remained in camps.  The Government should undertake every effort to ensure the continued improvement of the security situation in that region.  In partnership with the international community, it must provide the three-pronged humanitarian effort, and the Council must continue to encourage the Juba talks.

He noted that the leaders of LRA would like the International Criminal Court to suspend arrest warrants against them as a precondition for a peace agreement, while the Ugandan Government would prefer a peace agreement before making any such commitment.  On that point, the Security Council had reiterated last March that those who violated human rights and international humanitarian law must be brought to justice.  The parties must continue talks on the issue to reach a solution that respected that “absolute requirement”.  Any “alternative justice” other than that of the International Criminal Court, if pursued, must satisfy minimum conditions and respect the principle of complementarity, as contained in the Rome Statute.  For his delegation, impunity was not an option.

Council President ALEJANDRO WOLFF (United States), speaking in his national capacity, said his delegation was greatly concerned about the loss of life in Somalia and the humanitarian crisis faced by hundreds of thousands of Somalis.  However, despite ongoing challenges to aid operations, international relief efforts were reaching more than 250,000 of those recently displaced.  The United States had provided significant resources to the current relief efforts and remained committed to those efforts, including those for Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia.  It reiterated its call for all parties to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and urged the lifting of administrative impediments, including those involving visa and flight requirements, that inhibited the flow of aid.

He condemned the recent attacks on Ugandan peacekeepers and expressed grave concern over the pattern of such attacks, including the increased use of explosive devices by extremists.  The United States welcomed assurances that the Transitional Federal Government would allow investigations into the very troubling allegations of human rights violations.  The United States reiterated its support for robust preparations for a full United Nations engagement in Somalia.

Turning to northern Uganda, he said improved security and progress towards a settlement had encouraged thousands of displaced people to return, but more than 1 million remained displaced.  The United States commended recent efforts by Mr. Chissano to bring the parties back to the table in Juba, and stood ready to offer assistance with demobilization and disarmament, should agreement finally be reached.

Response by Under-Secretary-General

Mr. HOLMES, responding to delegates’ question and comments, said it would not be too optimistic to note that there had been virtual unanimity among Council members regarding the need for action in both Somalia and northern Uganda.  There was also agreement on the severity and scope of the humanitarian situations.  With respect to the French delegate’s question about improving humanitarian access in Somalia, there was no simple solution.  The starting point was the acceptance by all authorities there of the primacy of respecting the independence and impartiality of humanitarian action.

Stressing that the humanitarian personnel would work as closely as possible with the Government’s inter-ministerial committee, he said it was important that the Transitional Federal Government disseminate those instructions and ensure that all concerned facilitated humanitarian work as much as possible.  They must stop harassing humanitarian workers and demanding “taxes” from them.  In so far as the central Government had control over the armed groups responsible, it must ensure they received instructions to stop.  The single biggest thing that could be done to improve humanitarian access was to convene an inclusive political dialogue.  Other steps included the opening of small airstrips to humanitarian flights.

Regarding the transition from emergency relief to development aid in Uganda, he said it was important that the international community focus on the difficulty of moving from an emergency mindset to a development one, which was where gaps in the transition usually appeared.  While the international community had a huge responsibility to ensure that the transition worked well, there was an enormous responsibility on the Government of Uganda, as well in that regard.  Regarding children in armed conflict, it was a huge problem in Somalia, where all parties were guilty, in different ways and at different times, of recruiting and using child soldiers.  In Uganda, children and women were still held hostage by LRA, which should release them immediately.

On the need to take full account of local and national sovereignty and capacity to respond to crises and disasters, as mentioned by the representative of Indonesia, he said he was extremely conscious of that aspect.  Other delegates had mentioned piracy and the need for the international community to stop it.  It was a major impediment to WFP efforts to provide food aid, since the sea was the quickest and most effective way to provide it, and the Council must address that question rapidly.  Regarding Council members underscoring the need not to encourage impunity, there must be a necessary balance between achieving lasting peace and ensuring proper justice and accountability.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.