10 July 2008
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Sima Samar, issued the following statement following her sixth visit to the country from 28 June to 11 July.
I strongly condemn Tuesday’s attack on UN peacekeepers in Darfur. I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and my thoughts are with the families of those killed and injured in this unacceptable attack.
This is my sixth visit to Sudan since my appointment as Special Rapporteur. I would like to thank the Government of National Unity for inviting me and for the assistance and support they, and especially the Advisory Council on Human Rights (ACHR), have extended to me during my stay. I would also like to thank UNMIS and UNAMID, and particularly the Human Rights components for their extensive support in facilitating my visit. I regret that the Government did not issue a visa to the OHCHR staff member who was supposed to accompany me on this visit.
During this visit I had several meetings in Khartoum and travelled to El Fasher, Zalengi, Tawilla and Kafod in Darfur as well as to Muglad, Abyei, Agok, Wau, Juba and Torit. I was able to meet with numerous actors, including officials from the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan, representatives of signatory rebel groups in Darfur, UNMIS and UNAMID officials, humanitarian actors and members of civil society. I am grateful to the victims of human rights violations who shared their stories with me. I particularly commend the work of national human rights defenders and international organizations for their efforts to further the protection of human rights and provision of assistance to vulnerable populations. I am encouraged by the fact that the Government appears to have taken positive steps to address some of the concerns outlined in my previous reports and hope to build on this with a continuing constructive engagement.
As I conclude my visit I would like to take this opportunity to brief you on my preliminary findings. A report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September.
On 10 May 2008 armed members of the Darfurian Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched an attack on Khartoum. The UN Secretary General has condemned the attacks and expressed concern over their possible effect on civilian lives and property. The fighting that took place in the Omdurman district of Khartoum as well as the ensuing Government response raises serious concerns regarding violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
I strongly condemn the reported use of child soldiers in the attack. The use of children under 15 as combatants constitutes a serious violation of international law. I welcome the Government’s decision to allow independent observers access to the captured child combatants. Given the Government’s findings that these children were forcibly recruited I urge the Government to treat them as victims of the conflict, attempt to trace their families and ensure they are not prosecuted in relation to the attack but demobilized and fully reintegrated into society. To ensure successful reintegration and ensure their security, the identity of the captured child combatants must be protected.
Unfortunately, the use of child soldiers is not limited to the Omdurman attacks. I have encountered several child soldiers during this visit, recruited by different factions including the Sudanese Armed Forces. Under its international legal obligations the Government must not recruit or use in hostilities children under 18 years of age. I urge the Government as well other parties to the conflict to make all possible efforts to ensure children are guaranteed their rights under international law and under no circumstances used as combatants. I am strongly encouraged by the efforts of the Government’s DDR Commission in this regard and urge it to continue with its work.
According to the Government, 34 civilian deaths were caused as a result of the fighting. From the information and reports I have received, it appears that a number of these may have been deliberate or the result of the disproportionate use of force. To ensure accountability of the perpetrators I urge the Government to conduct an inquiry into the allegations and make its findings public as soon as possible.
I am also very concerned about the Government’s response following the attack. I have heard of a significant number of people that have been reportedly detained in the follow-up to the attack. As the UN still does not have access to places of detention in Khartoum the exact figure of detainees is impossible to verify. The large majority of those detained appear to be of Darfurian origin and there is credible evidence that many of them were arrested on grounds of their ethnicity.
I have heard allegations of torture, mistreatment and inhumane detention conditions. I welcome the Ministry of Justice’s assurance to me that “the Government’s firm policy is that nobody will be tortured.” I encourage the ACHR to follow up on any allegations of torture in coordination with UNMIS.
Many complaints were brought to me about intimidation and press censorship by the NISS. As Sudan approaches elections scheduled for 2009, it is imperative that the conditions necessary for free and fair elections are put in place. These include effective guarantees of the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly.
I also travelled to Abyei where, since my last visit, a confrontation between SAF and SPLA has had severe repercussions on the civilian population. What emerges from my tour of the destroyed town and my consultations with affected communities displaced to Muglad and Agok is an extremely disturbing picture: Large areas of the town were completely destroyed, burnt and looted. Eyewitnesses and victims reported very serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Given the seriousness of the allegations, the Government of National Unity must take immediate action. It should support an in-depth independent fact-finding inquiry to investigate violations and bring perpetrators to justice. The findings of this inquiry should be made public. The rifts that the incident created between the local communities must also be addressed as a matter of urgency. In addition to truth-finding and accountability, further steps must be taken to ensure community reconciliation and healing.
I once again visited Darfur. I am encouraged that the Government has taken several positive steps to implement the recommendations of the Group of Experts and address human rights concerns. Examples of such positive steps include the 1 July public launch of the “Swiss Project” in El Fasher; the increased number of police – including women police – that have been deployed to Darfur; and the increased activities of the State Committees against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Also, the indictment, prosecution and sentencing of several regular forces personnel accused and found guilty of rape sends an important signal to perpetrators and communities. To further build on this progress the Government must be more proactive and take strong measures against ongoing violations of human rights.
Despite such positive steps, the human rights situation on the ground remains grim. Direct violations by Government forces continue to be reported. Travelling to Tawilla I saw the town completely deserted following a 12 May attack by the Central Reserve Police (CRP), following the death of a member of the CRP in Tawilla.
Civilians also continue to suffer from violent actions by both signatory and non-signatory rebel groups. During my visit to the Mario villages near Kafod I saw an extremely concerning example of this. Armed clashes between the two signatory factions on 21 May resulted in the almost complete destruction of the villages including the burning down of the village mosque, and the killing and injury of civilians.
The Government has primary responsibility regarding the promotion and protection of human rights. I also call on the rebel groups to fully comply with their obligations under international law and to take all necessary measures to protect civilians. As there is no military solution to the Darfur conflict, the Government, the movements and the international community need to make a more determined attempt to find a workable political solution to the conflict.
It is imperative to address the dramatic shrinking of humanitarian space. An illustrative example is the prevalence of carjacking in Darfur. I was told that in the first six months of 2008 alone, 135 vehicles belonging to humanitarian agencies and NGOs were lost as the result of such incidents. This is almost the same number as the 139 vehicles total for all of 2007. As a direct result, for instance, WFP has already been forced to reduce the rations it gives out by half. I urge the Government to do its utmost to ensure security and work with the humanitarian community in Darfur to protect humanitarian space.
In Southern Sudan, I was encouraged to find many of my interlocutors displaying a strong commitment to human rights. Yet, to realize such a commitment on the ground the Government of Southern Sudan must take a more proactive approach on implementing a broad human rights agenda and allocate its resources accordingly.
During my visit to Torit I heard of a tragic incident that took place in Hiyala, Torit on 4 June. Following cattle-raiding related tensions between two local villages, SPLA forces were sent to the area to attempt to disarm the community. Mistaking the SPLA forces for attackers from the other village, a fire-fight broke out, killing several civilians and soldiers. I have received reports that in the aftermaths of the battle the SPLA took retaliatory action, including the burning of huts and, allegedly, deliberate killings. I welcome the setting up of a board of inquiry tasked to undertake a full investigation into the incident is ongoing. The Government of Southern Sudan must ensure that anybody found responsible for any violations be held fully accountable and that the results of this inquiry be made public.
The incident illustrates a more general concern regarding the role military SPLA forces play in supposedly civilian law enforcement. The relatively new police forces of Southern Sudan still face challenges of both infrastructure and capacity. To avoid repeats of incidents such as that in Torit, it is essential that the Government of National Unity, the Government of Southern Sudan and the international community commit the resources and support necessary to make possible a successful and comprehensive transition from military to civilian law-enforcement as soon as possible.
I also visited a number of detention centres in Southern Sudan. The conditions I found generally fell far short of international standards. The Government and the international community are aware of the problem but should try to address it as a matter of priority.
Finally, during my visit, both in Darfur and in the transitional areas, several communities and other interlocutors have expressed strong concerns regarding what they perceive as the UN’s inability to protect the civilian population from the conflict. At the same time, Tuesday’s attack in Darfur tragically demonstrated the risks the peacekeepers run in carrying out their mission. UNAMID and UNMIS have very different mandates. The disillusionment I heard from communities in place like Tawilla or in Abyei is startlingly similar. Compounded by a lack of public awareness, expectations may often be unrealistically high. Also, I realize that very often the UN personnel on the ground simply do not have the resources and support to intervene as forcefully as they otherwise might. However, it is essential that the UN provide clear and practically applicable guidance on how exactly a protection of civilians mandate should be interpreted and implemented on the ground. This must go together with extensive instruction and training as well as, crucially, the support and equipment required to carry out the mandate. It must also be complemented by more active awareness raising activities amongst communities regarding exactly what the UN can and cannot do.
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For use of the information media; not an official record