Sudanese NGO in Darfur targeted following Peace and Security Council meeting: time to rethink AU strategy

(KAMPALA, March 25, 2006) It has now been over ten days since Sudan ordered the closure of two field offices of the leading Sudanese humanitarian and development organisation, SUDO—just one day after the African Union reaffirmed its strategy in the region.

In shutting down all of the agency’s operations in West Darfur, the authorities also forced the handing over of assets and property and the freezing of bank accounts.

“Destroying SUDO’s capacity to provide crucial humanitarian services in the context of huge and growing need in West Darfur is impossible to comprehend,” said Dismas Nkunda, spokesperson for the Darfur Consortium.

“Before the summary actions of the authorities, SUDO’s essential food distribution and health and nutrition units in West Darfur were reaching over 30,000 people. This action can only be interpreted as an attack on the most vulnerable of Sudan’s citizens,” Mr. Nkunda said.

The Darfur Consortium calls on the Government of Sudan to indicate as a matter of urgency how it intends to take up the shortfall in food and health services created by the seizure of SUDO.

Last week the UN Secretary General told the UN Security Council that in West Darfur international and national aid workers were coming under increasing attack and that the agency had been forced to cut staff levels, restrict movement, and reduce food rations.

“It is hard to imagine how the closure can be justified legally or morally in such an acute humanitarian situation,” stated Mr. Nkunda.

It is understood that the basis for the closure was cited as the “Organisation of Humanitarian and Voluntary Work Act,” a piece of legislation which was recently passed by the Sudanese parliament.

SUDO is one of the largest and most respected indigenous humanitarian and development agencies in Sudan. It provides not only critical humanitarian care in Darfur but educational, cultural and development programs through local offices right across Sudan.

“It is vital that the African Union (AU) intervene immediately to ensure the reversal of this decision,” urged Mr. Nkunda.

“The African Union has pledged that the continuation of its leadership role in Darfur would not result in lesser protection for Darfurians. In particular, in rejecting an early transition to the UN it put its faith in the will of the Government of Sudan and other States in the region to see ‘African solutions for African problems.’ This action, coming just one day after the AU Peace and Security Council met in Addis Ababa calls this good will into question. And the people of Darfur are suffering as a result.”

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The AU must not fail the people of Darfur

(KAMPALA, March 13, 2006) The Darfur Consortium today cautioned that the African Union had set itself a formidable task in rejecting an early opportunity to transition towards an expanded the UN role in Darfur. On Friday the AU decided that it would continue to head up the international troop presence in Darfur, although it renewed its support “in principle” for a transition to a UN force in the long term. The mandate of the African Union mission in Sudan (AMIS) has been extended to September 2006.

“By electing to continue its lead role in Darfur the AU is asking the people of Darfur to renew to place their trust in a mission which, by its own admission, has not been able to protect them effectively to date,” said Dismas Nkunda, a spokesperson for the Consortium.

Despite some initial success in stabilizing the situation in Darfur, significant obstacles have prevented AMIS from fulfilling its mandate. In addition to logistic and technical challenges, lack of cooperation from the parties to the conflict, in particular from the Government of Sudan, has seriously hampered its work.

“It is vital that the African Union now sets out a new strategy for this phase of the mission, both political and operational,” said Mr. Nkunda. “Success or failure will be critical to the lives and livelihoods of millions of Darfurians.”

“Most importantly the African Union must show that it is ready to take proactive steps to protect civilians on the ground,” said Mr. Nkunda. In this regard, the Consortium welcomed the statement by the Council yesterday that it was determined to “take all necessary steps for the consistent, flexible, broad and robust interpretation” of its mandate “in order to ensure a more forceful protection of the civilian population.” These words must now be translated into action.

View the Consortium’s statement on the AU – UN transition.

Darfur Consortium position on the African Union’s role in relation to the protection of civilians in Darfur

(KAMPALA, March 10, 2006) The Darfur Consortium today called on the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to take action urgently to improve the protection of civilians in Darfur.

The Peace and Security Council, meeting today in Addis Ababa, is expected to review the progress of the African Union mission in Sudan (AMIS) and make a final decision on cooperating with the UN mission in Sudan to take on greater responsibility in Darfur. The Council faces a difficult task in forging a plan which both recognizes the realities of the complex challenges facing the AMIS mission on the ground and ensures that the people of Darfur are protected from the increasing violence.

During the last two years the African Union has, commendably and against great odds, taken the lead on finding a solution to the crisis in Darfur on behalf of the international community, not only through leading political negotiations in Abuja, but critically by sending a force of over seven thousand troops to Darfur to monitor the ceasefire and provide a measure of protections to civilians.

Unfortunately, the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate. The most recent report of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Alpha Konare, highlighted large scale violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur, including attacks on camps for the displaced and humanitarian personnel. Alongside an escalation in the number and seriousness of ceasefire violations by all sides in the conflict, the Chairperson noted that tensions between Chad and Sudan significantly complicated the political and humanitarian context. The number of war affected persons now stands at over 3.5 million.

Despite some initial success in stabilizing the situation, significant obstacles have prevented AMIS from accomplishing its essential mission. In particular, as the AU Commission Chairperson has acknowledged, the “effectiveness of AMIS is directly related to the level of cooperation which it receives” from the parties to the conflict, a cooperation which has been “extremely inconsistent” and marked by rising number of attacks against AMIS itself.

TheAfrican Union Peace and Security Council is faced with a crucial opportunity: to agree a plan to strengthen the capacity of AMIS to fulfill its mission which both recognizes the realities of the challenges faced on the ground, including the continued intransigence of the warring parties, and the need to seek additional, appropriate international support.

The Darfur Consortium therefore urges that the Peace and Security Council consider the following during its deliberations:

* UNMIS has already been mandated by the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII to “take the necessary action, in the areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities,” inter alia, and “without prejudice to the responsibility of the Government of the Sudan,” to “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” It is charged with carrying out this mandate “ in close and continuous liaison with the African Union Mission in Darfur.”
* United Nations Resolution 1590 explicitly charged the UN Secretary General with exploring ways in which an evolving UNMIS mission could “reinforce the effort to foster peace in Darfur, including through appropriate capacity building assistance to the African Union Mission.”
* The UN has already been involved to a significant extent in underpinning the current AMIS mission, from logistic support and provision of equipment and air lift, to sharing of technical expertise, and the conduct of budgetary and training functions on behalf of the mission, much of the operations coordinated through the UN Assistance Cell within the Darfur Integrated Task Force.
* As of the January 31, the UNMIS mission comprised 6,300 military personnel including members of the forces of the AU members states of Benin, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, many of which are currently contributing states to AMIS.

It is clear that the United Nations and the African Union are already working together closely in Darfur. The challenge now is to elaborate a policy framework which allows that collaboration to be more effectively operationalized and felt on the ground.

With the foundation of the African Union, African states dedicated themselves to the promotion and protection of “human rights, the rule of law and good governance” on the continent as both principles and objectives of the African Union. Two core principles upon which the Union was founded are the “rejection of impunity” and the “right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.” At its 38 th Ordinary Session in November/December 2005, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) expressed its “deep concern over the continuing grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur.”

It is vital that the African Union Peace and Security Council now identify the appropriate level of UN Security Council support and authorization required, both in the immediate and in mid term, to permit the African Union and the United Nations together to take those steps which are necessary to effectively protect the people of Darfur.

Representatives of the Government of Sudan have reportedly used incendiary rhetoric to describe the implications of any extension or explicit alteration of the current UNMIS mandate in Sudan. While respect for the sovereignty of Sudan must be upheld as a core principle of international law, general principles of international law and the AU Constitutive Act itself provide for inherent limitations on the scope of exercise of this principle, inter alia, where protection of citizens from exposure to grave and massive violations of human rights in the absence of the willingness or ability of the state to protect is at issue.

The Darfur Consortium believes that the response to the situation in Darfur must be seen as at once an African and an international responsibility—as indeed must response to all other grievous and massive violations of human rights on the continent. The people of Darfur cannot be sacrificed to a political climate where the determination of a coordinated and effective international response is held hostage to a polarized and fragmented global community. Those intent on prolonging the conflict and enhancing impunity will be the only profiteers of such a policy.