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Accessing and protecting affected civilians in Sudan

Sudan is facing a critical period in its history.

Looting and destruction of homes in Abyei © OHCHR Photo/Scott Campbell

As South Sudan is about to split from the north and become a new independent State, violence in the disputed town of Abyei and, most recently, in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan, has forced thousands of people to leave their homes.

“The top priorities throughout Sudan today are the protection of civilians and access to victims of violence,” said Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang at a press conference in Geneva, following her trip to Sudan from 20 to 27 June.

Kang said that the situation in Darfur also remained worrisome, with reports of aerial bombings continuing in June.

During her visit to Sudan, Kang was not able to access South Kordofan nor to its main town of Kadugli. She had hoped to visit the area in order to get information about the condition of people who had been displaced by the conflict, thousands of whom had sought refuge in an area by the UN compound.

Kang said that the information received was from “word of mouth” but there was no “overall picture”. “I was able to speak to our staff in Kadugli via telephone,” she said. They could only provide anecdotal evidence such as the case of “a family who had returned home and found dead bodies of their loved ones,” she said.

Following her trip, representatives from the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which represents Southern Sudan, reached an agreement stating that the two sides should begin working on a ceasefire and allow humanitarian access into Southern Kordofan.

“The hope is that the agreement will stop the succession of hostilities and provide access to the affected population in order to address their needs, monitor the human rights situation and assess the extent of the violations,” Kang said.

A recent agreement to demilitarize the town of Abyei and allow peacekeepers to monitor the situation prompted the UN Security Council to approve a resolution authorizing the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops to Abyei.

By the resolution, the new force, called the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei, is authorized to take “the necessary actions”, including the use of military force, to protect civilians and UN personnel.

Following the South’s independence on 9 July, it is expected that the UN Security Council will establish a new peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Kang said that the mission should include “a strong and robust human rights component” that is able to reach remote areas of the country, work with the State authorities, provide them with training and capacity building on human rights norms and monitor the human rights situation on the ground.” Kang stressed the importance of “prevention by presence”. “Just being there has a great preventive effect,” she added.

Protection of civilians is also an issue in Darfur where thousands of people living in the Zamzam refugee camp, near El Fasher, are yet to be properly registered due to a shortage of humanitarian workers .Visa restrictions and a shortage of international humanitarian organizations in Darfur has negatively impacted the situation for many of the displaced. Kang was able to visit the Zamzam camp and described the conditions there as shocking.

30 June 2011