21 June 2013
Press Conference

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

Press Conference to Launch Non-Governmental Organizations Reports on Sudan


Bolder action was needed on the part of the international community — and the Security Council in particular — to end political and ethnic violence that had been on the rise in Sudan since the South declared independence nearly two years ago, said representatives of several non-governmental organizations as they introduced their reports on the matter at a Headquarters press conference today.


Moderating the event, Scott Malcomson, Communications Director for the International Crisis Group, recalled that a Comprehensive Peace Agreement had been signed between the Sudanese Government and the main opposition group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), in 2005.  Nevertheless, disputes in a number of areas, including Darfur, Abyei and Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, had remained unresolved.  Violence continued in each of those areas, he said, drawing attention to new reports on the conflict, which had been issued by a number of non-governmental organizations in recent weeks.


Joining Mr. Malcomson to present the main findings of those reports, as well as information from recent research and visits to Sudan, were Renzo Pomi, Amnesty International’s representative to the United Nations; Jehanne Henry, Senior Researcher of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division; and E.J. Hogendoorn, Africa Deputy Program Director for the International Crisis Group.


Mr. Pomi said that, in the conflict in Blue Nile State, the Sudanese Government’s indiscriminate aerial bombing was its “signature tactic”.  Scores of civilians had been killed there and the fear of being bombed had led many to flee their homes.


Describing several recent attacks, he noted that there had also been reports of attacks by Sudanese ground forces on villages.  It was clear that the goal of those attacks was deliberate destruction, he said, adding that such actions might constitute war crimes.  In addition, living conditions for the civilian population remained extremely difficult, with a lack of food and clean water.  Many had decided to make the long journey to South Sudan, despite the extreme hardships faced along the way.


For those that remained in SPLM-North-held areas, the denial of humanitarian access was a major challenge, he pointed out.  Initiatives to get aid into those areas had failed so far.  In addition, Sudanese authorities had arrested suspected SPLM-North members around Sudan, often holding them in indefinite detention without trial.


To date, he went on to say, there had been an inadequate response to the situation by the international community, and he called on the Security Council to be more assertive in addressing human rights violations in Sudan.  Among other things, the Council should demand an immediate end to indiscriminate aerial bombings; press the Sudanese Government to allow humanitarian workers and human rights monitors into both Blue Nile and South Kordofan; set up an international inquiry to investigate violations; and support the work of the International Criminal Court in relation to suspected Sudanese war criminals.


Adding to that, Ms. Henry said that the situation in Sudan had indeed deteriorated since South Sudan’s independence in 2011.  She described her recent visit to the Chadian border with Darfur, where the dominant fighting was between Government and rebel forces.  However, other ethnic conflicts also existed there, reflecting weak or absent law enforcement.  The Government’s responsibility to protect its civilians and prosecute those responsible was frequently overlooked.


She told correspondents that, in her interviews with dozens of witnesses to recent fighting in central Darfur, a picture was emerging of a coordinated attack.  Moreover, while witnesses said that the conflict was ethnically motivated, they reported that attackers had been wearing Government uniforms.  Some also reported the presence of the senior militia leader, Ali Kushayb, who remained wanted by the International Criminal Court.


Describing those large-scale attacks, she stressed that the Government’s responsibility to protect civilians was not being met, and that the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) was being blocked from reaching the scene.


Meanwhile, she said, in the Security Council, political disagreements had blocked the use of language condemning indiscriminate attacks, as well as the non-action of the Government.  She issued a number of recommendations to the Council, including that UNAMID investigate ethnic attacks and issue a public report.  The Council had a chance to implement such changes in UNAMID’s upcoming mandate renewal, she stressed.


Mr. Hogendoorn said that the crises in Sudan had resulted in more than 1 million internally displaced persons and thousands of refugees.  While there were echoes of the earlier civil war in Sudan, the dynamics of the current crises were different, having settled into a “vicious stalemate” in which the Government was unable to extricate rebels hiding in the mountains, and in which “neither side is strong enough to win”.  A negotiated settlement was the only viable option.


The Sudanese Government’s grasp on the country had long been sustained by oil money from the south, he went on.  However, with the independence of South Sudan, it now faced an “existential crisis”.  Opposition forces were becoming more assertive, and calls for reform were rising.  Nonetheless, he said, “[Sudanese President Omer Hassan A. al-Bashir] is a wily survivor”.


The United Nations should learn lessons from past initiatives, he said, emphasizing the need for a truly comprehensive peace agreement.  While separate deals on the two conflict areas might be easier for diplomats, they were unlikely to address the real causes of war in Sudan.  Instead, bold leadership was needed to help craft the right strategy.


The panellists responded to a number of questions from correspondents, including from one who asked if the Security Council might impose a country-wide arms embargo or a no-fly zone over the whole of Sudan.  To that, Mr. Pomi responded that the current Darfur-specific arms embargo was not working.  “We are here to push for a bit more action by the Council,” he said, adding that some States were more receptive to that call than others.


Asked about humanitarian access to the SPLM-North-held areas, Mr. Pomi reiterated that, in spite of all attempts, access to those areas remained “non-existent”.  Mr. Hogendoorn added that “access clearly needs to be provided”, and that care must be taken to ensure that any humanitarian intervention was entirely impartial.


Replying to whether UNAMID was doing all that it could to investigate who was behind the attacks, Ms. Henry said that there was a push for the mission to bolster its investigation and reporting.  It needed to be persistent, and keep asking for access.  The mission’s mandate contained a strong protection of civilians component, she stressed, which was clearly not being fulfilled.


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For information media • not an official record