Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Contact: Jeremie Smith, Director Geneva Office
Phone Number: (+202) 27945341 / 27951112
Language: ENGISH ONLY
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Written Statement submitted by The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), a non-governmental organization in special consultative status
Title: The Deteriorating Humanitarian Situation in Darfur and the Ongoing Practice of Impunity for Human Rights Violations
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) in collaboration with 13 Arab NGOs would like to express its deep concern over the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Darfur that is jeopardizing the lives of unarmed civilians.
1. The conflict in Darfur has been continuously deteriorating as a result of national and regional impunity practiced by the Sudanese as well as Arab and African governments. Not only is the Sudanese government failing to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of its citizens and offer adequate protection to the civilian population, it is a flagrant perpetrator of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Armed confrontations between the Sudanese government armed forces, their affiliated militias and armed rebel groups, as well as inter-tribal fighting, continues to blight the lives of civilians. After six years of brutal fighting resulting in thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions, peace seems to be reaching a deadlock. Since 2003 the conflict has become progressively more complicated with rebel groups and pro-government militias alike fragmenting into small armed factions. In fact, the Head of the Joint African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) described the conflict as one of “all against all” – a situation that endangers the future of a durable peace. Official retaliatory measures, including the expulsion of humanitarian organizations from Darfur, by the Sudanese government in reaction to international efforts to put an end to impunity in Darfur and address the root causes of the conflict, demonstrates a complete disregard for the basic rights enshrined in both international human rights and humanitarian law. The current situation described above, despite a growing belief that the situation is improving, has ensured that the basic security of civilians in Darfur may now be more threatened than ever before.
2. The first quarter of 2009 witnessed high levels of violence that resulted in a steady and rapid decline in the operational abilities of humanitarian organizations in Darfur, making the security situation fragile and unpredictable. In the period from January 1, 2008 until March 31, 2009, ongoing violence in Darfur resulted in some 2,000 fatalities, approximately one third of them civilians. By January 1, 2009, the now 6-year conflict has resulted in the displacement of nearly 2.7 million in Darfur and an additional 2 million continue to be directly affected by the conflict. As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), January 2009 witnessed intense military confrontations in Muhajariya and Shaeria in South Darfur and in Wada’ah in North Darfur between government forces and rebel and opposition groups that resulted in the death of at least 30 civilians and displacement of 30,000 of civilians, the vast majority of which are from the Zaghawa tribe.
3. In addition to the many incidents of violence between government armed forces, their allied militia and armed rebel groups, inter-tribal clashes continue to affect the civilian population. On February 8, 2009, armed militia from the Mima tribe launched an attack against the Zaghawa-dominated SLA/MM in the town of Wada’ah, which was followed by a counterattack two days later. UNAMID reported four other “alarming” incidents on March 29 and 30 between the Habaniya and Fallata tribes and between the Habaniya and Reizigat tribes in Southern Darfur with at least 200 reported deaths.
4. Meanwhile, the Sudanese government showed complete disregard for the protection of the civilian population as well as failing to allocate sufficient space to accommodate the migrating population leaving thousands without food, healthcare or shelter. Complementing the government’s role to protect and offer humanitarian aid to the thousands of civilians in the war-ravaged region are the UNAMID, UN entities and NGOs. Moreover, the government has reportedly restricted humanitarian access to some areas in Darfur that were heavily affected by the fighting and has failed to provide humanitarian peacekeepers and UNAMID forces with protection against attacks. The security level for the United Nations remains at Phase IV and reports of random carjacking, banditry and ambush attacks continue to threaten the lives of UN personnel.
CIHRS and its partner organizations would like to express its deep concern over the extreme measures that the Sudanese government resorted to in retaliation of the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant against the Sudanese President on March 4, 2009.
1. Upon the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to issue an arrest warrant against President Omar Al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity on March 4, 2009, Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission revoked the registrations and expelled 13 international NGOs (INGOs). Authorities also dissolved 3 national NGOs operating in north Sudan for allegedly collaborating with the ICC investigations. Even though these organizations provide a lifeline to 4.7 million people in Darfur alone, and millions more in other areas of Northern Sudan, the Sudanese government has, with this retaliatory decision, decided to hold “the entire civilian population of Darfur hostage.” As such, the government has removed some 6,500 staff, or 40% of the humanitarian workforce operating in the region, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable IDPs and civilians of much-needed humanitarian aid. Aid organizations, most notably the WHO, warned that what is considered to have been the largest humanitarian operation in the world “will be irrevocably damaged” by the expulsion, leaving more than 800,000 people without aid and some 650,000 people without full access to the necessary range of health services – a situation that has the potential to become the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
2. According to UN humanitarian chief John Holmes, the expulsion left “serious capacity gaps”, where the suspended NGOs account for more than half of the capacity for the aid operation in Darfur that were providing diverse specialized and humanitarian services ranging from education to food, shelter and water. Yet, the fact that the Sudanese government recently announced that it is willing to admit new NGOs to fill in the gap that the absence of the 16 relief agencies has left does not undo the damage created by such a decision – a decision that may amount to an additional war crime against the civilian population. More importantly, it does not alter the fact that the expulsion, repression and intimidation of relief, humanitarian and human rights organizations by the Sudanese government constitutes an instance of collective punishment, and a derogation of the Sudanese government’s obligation to ensure humanitarian assistance for millions of civilians. Acts of intimidation and repression have furthermore resulted in driving almost all local human rights organizations and defenders out of the country, which not only constitutes a grave violation, but more importantly, leaves the country without a country-wide monitoring system against the threat of widespread human rights abuses and violations.
3. Such an extreme and non-proportional retaliatory measure taken against civilians of the region, as well as the widespread harassment and intimidation of humanitarian and human rights NGOs and personnel, reflects a wanton disregard for the protection of the civilian population and a complete disrespect of all fundamental international humanitarian standards contained within the four Geneva Conventions and their Optional Protocols. Sudanese authorities continue to harass and intimidate those whom they accuse of “spying” or “conspiring” with the ICC, including displaced people, human rights defenders and innocent civilians in Darfur. Reports of systematic harassment, obstruction, and intimidation of humanitarian and human rights work in the country reflects a continuing pattern of impunity propagated by the Sudanese government and the League of Arab States (LAS) for war crimes committed in Darfur, and which is carried out to ensure that the Sudanese regime will never be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
4. Regional impunity has not only been supported by the League of Arab States, but also within the institutions of the African Union (AU). Following the indictment of Al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the current Chairman of the AU, described the indictment of Bashir as “First World terrorism” and “an attempt by (the west) to re-colonize their former colonies.” In the weeks since his indictment, Bashir has visited Egypt, Eritrea, Libya and Ethiopia. In fact, in the most brazen act of defiance against international justice, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir attended the Arab Summit in Doha, during which the summit expressed its support of the Sudanese regime and rejected what they called “attempts to abridge state sovereignty, unity, security, stability and symbols of national statehood,” while completely ignoring and undermining basic principles of humanity and international justice.
CIHRS and its partner organizations would like bring the following recommendations to the attention of the Sudanese government and the international community:
– CIHRS and its partner organizations call on all parties to the ongoing conflict to move the peace process forward on the bases of accountability and justice and engage with various Darfur rebel groups in order to negotiate a durable political solution for the six-year conflict that would guarantee peace and stability in the country.
– Although CIHRS and its partner organizations applaud the Sudanese government’s recent decision to allow new local and international NGOs to operate in Darfur, the retaliatory measure to expel and close 16 relief agencies proved to have grave humanitarian consequences. Thus CIHRS calls on the Sudanese government to revoke such a decision and allow all 16 relief agencies to operate back into the country.
– CIHRS and its partner organizations call on the international community to exert pressure to end the impunity practiced on the national and regional level, especially with regards to cooperating with the ICC. CIHRS applauds the recent voluntary appearance before the ICC by Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, a rebel commander in Darfur, charged with war crimes and calls for further cooperation to secure justice for victims.
– CIHRS and its partner organizations strongly call on the Sudanese government to observe its international legal obligations and ensure that the basic human rights principles are guaranteed.
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