2 April 2004


Press Briefing

                                                            2 April 2004

Press briefing on humanitarian crisIs in darfur, sudan

Characterizing the humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan as “ethnic cleansing”, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said it was one of the world’s worst, and one of its most neglected, humanitarian crises.

Speaking to correspondents following his briefing to the Security Council, Mr. Egeland said there were daily reports of widespread atrocities and grave violations of human rights.  Stopping those attacks was the number one priority.  An organized, forced depopulation of entire areas was taking place, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands.  Most of the relief efforts were targeting those displaced populations.  Linked to that were limitations in access to the estimated 1 million people affected.

Most of the attacks, he said, had targeted civilian populations.  Entire villages had been looted and burned down, and large numbers of civilians had been raped, tortured and killed.  There weren’t even proper camps for the refugees and displaced.  The attacks primarily targeted communities of black Africans.

Last month alone, he said, there were reports of 59 violent attacks with
212 civilians killed, of which 166 deaths were attributed to the Janjaweed, or troops associated with the Government.  Forty-three killings were linked to rebel groups.  “That was just the tip of the iceberg.”  It was not possible to say just how many were killed due to lack of access.

Currently, United Nations agencies, including the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, were operating out of the three provincial capitals.  Access, however, was still severely limited even though unimpeded access had been promised earlier in the year.

The United Nations had issued an appeal for $23 million September 2003, he recalled.  Since then, the needs had quadrupled and a minimum of $115 million was required.  Most of the $23 million appealed for last September had been raised.  However, the crisis had grown and funds were lacking for the bigger operation that was now being undertaken.  In addition, the United Nations asked for $30 million today in Geneva for refugees being assisted in Chad.

He had recommended to the Security Council that pressure be put on the parties to reach a humanitarian ceasefire by the end of the week, during their talks taking place in N'Djamena, Chad, under the auspices of the African Union and the President of Chad, and being observed and facilitated by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Present at the talks in Chad, he said, were the two main rebel groups -- JEM and SLA -- as well as the Government of the Sudan.  The Government could control and disarm the Janjaweed militia, which was responsible for most of the human rights violations.

Egeland Press Briefing                - 2 -                 2 April 2004

Now was the time to agree to that ceasefire without delay, he stressed.  He was discouraged with the lack of progress achieved by the parties in the last three days while civilians continued to die.  Also, Sudan should commit to disarm the Janjaweed militia.  Law and order must be restored and those guilty of human rights violations must be brought to justice.  In addition, the Government should ensure that all humanitarian personnel have unimpeded access to all areas of Darfur.

Furthermore, he added, prompt and generous support was needed from donors to meet the rapidly growing needs.  He was heartened to see the first statement issued by the Council today on the situation in Darfur.  He hoped the Council would remain seized of the matter and would consider taking further action if the situation did not improve.

Asked if he would use the term genocide to describe the situation in Darfur, Mr. Egeland said that he would not, but would call it a “systematic depopulation of areas”.

In response to another question, he said that the human rights fact-finding team from Geneva was going to Chad to interview refugees.  It would also be seeking permission to go to Darfur.  On the issue of access, he said that until mid-February, there was virtually no access at all.  It had been the Government’s policy to deny access.  Then President Bashir reversed that policy and humanitarian personnel had limited access in mid-February.  The current lack of access was due to a combination of factors, including insecurity, prevention by armed groups and the Government not providing permits.

He emphasized the need for greater attention to the situation, as well as for the need for the situation to be placed on the Council’s agenda from now on.  Every effort was now being concentrated on getting a humanitarian ceasefire by the end of the week.  So far, the talks had not been encouraging.  It was easy to negotiate the ceasefire, he stated.  “It wasn’t the future of Jerusalem they were discussing.”

Next to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said the Sudan had been the “killing fields of our generation”.  However, the peace process for southern Sudan had yielded results and he hoped for a breakthrough in the peace talks in Chad.

He noted that the conditions of the displaced were very bad and would become much worse in the next few months, as the rainy season would make roads inaccessible.  Also, the people the displaced lived with now were exhausting their supplies, leading to an unsustainable situation.  There could be mass starvation in a few weeks or months if the situation was allowed to continue.

He said there was no reason to believe that the Government was actively planning the attacks, but there was reason to say that far too little was being done to stop it.  It seemed that the violence was being condoned.  Several times the Government had been given reports of ongoing violations, as well as early warning.

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For information media. Not an official record.