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Darfur: Arab League Must Back UN Protection Force

Arab League Should Back U.N. Protection Force in Darfur

Summit in Khartoum Must Not Turn a Blind Eye to Sudan’s Atrocities

(Cairo) – At the Arab League summit in Khartoum, Arab leaders should endorse plans to transform promptly the African Union’s mission in Darfur into a United Nations protection force, a coalition of international and Arab human rights organizations said today. In addition, Arab officials should encourage their Sudanese counterparts to accept the transition to a U.N. force.

Arab League leaders will meet today in the Sudanese capital for a two-day summit. On the agenda will be the A.U. proposal to turn the A.U. Mission in Sudan (AMIS) into a U.N. operation. Earlier this month, Sudan’s government launched a massive diplomatic campaign to thwart the proposed U.N. transition.

The Arab League has rightly condemned attacks on civilians across the region, but it has remained silent about Sudan’s atrocities in Darfur. This time, Arab leaders must put the interests of Sudan’s people first and support the transition to a U.N. force in Darfur.

In the past, Khartoum has used its diplomatic skills to pressure the Arab League into overlooking Sudan’s abuses in Darfur. In 2004, the Arab League dispatched to Darfur its own Commission of Inquiry, which condemned “massive violations of human rights” by pro-government militias. Following active protest by Sudan, the Arab League downplayed the commission’s findings.

The Sudanese government’s campaign in Darfur has driven two million people from their homes and forced more than 220,000 into refugee camps in Chad. Beginning in 2003, Khartoum’s campaign has targeted civilians from the same ethnic groups as Darfur’s two rebel movements, the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement. As part of this campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” Khartoum has encouraged and supported members of Sudanese ethnic groups to attack their neighbors.

The increasing violence in Darfur has left hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of food and protection. A U.N. force is needed to restore the humanitarian relief cut off by direct attacks.

In the last three months, the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated significantly. Janjaweed militias backed by Khartoum, Darfur rebels and bandits have attacked humanitarian convoys in Darfur. Sudanese government forces and Janjaweed militias have continued their attacks on civilians, both within and outside camps for displaced persons. In addition, all parties to the conflict have repeatedly violated the 2004 ceasefire.
Moreover, the internal conflict has recently taken on larger international dimensions since December. Sudanese government-backed militias and Chadian rebels have launched cross-border attacks into Chad, where some elements in the government support the two Darfur rebel groups.

On March 10, after intense lobbying by Khartoum, the African Union extended the mandate of the A.U. force in Darfur by six months during which the U.N. hopes to get Sudan’s consent for the U.N. to deploy. The African Union has cited both the growing complexity of the operation and the need for a stable source of funding, as the main reasons for handing over the 7,000-strong A.U. mission, which is charged with civilian protection. In 2004, escalating attacks against civilians in Darfur had forced the A.U. mission to shift from monitoring a non-existent ceasefire to providing security for civilians in imminent danger. The African Union increased its presence from 300 to more than 7,000 personnel. Yet this expanded force continues to suffer from capacity constraints, insufficient technical support, and constant obstruction from the Sudanese government.

With attacks in Darfur increasing and violence spreading to Chad, the transition to a U.N. force must begin right away. During the interim months, however, the A.U. mission needs full funding and support.

The Sudanese government has reacted to the proposed transition with an intense lobbying campaign aimed at Arab League and African Union member states. Khartoum has promoted anti-U.N. propaganda in the Sudanese press comparing the introduction of “foreign forces” in Darfur to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

What Sudanese officials neglect to mention, however, is that 6,000 U.N. personnel from more than 60 predominantly African and Asian countries are already deployed in central and southern Sudan as part of the 2005 peace agreement ending the 21-year civil war waged between the central government and a different, southern-based rebel force, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army. That U.N. peacekeeping operation is expected to grow to 10,000 troops.

Sudan already hosts foreign U.N. troops on its territory. Khartoum is clearly trying to manipulate Arab opinion with inflammatory misinformation about a non-existent “invasion” of Sudan.

The coalition of international and Arab human rights organizations called on Arab League leaders meeting at the summit to:

• Urge the Sudanese government to accept promptly and without conditions, a transition to a U.N. mission in Darfur;

• Condemn violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Sudanese government, government-backed militias and rebel groups in Darfur;

• Insist that the Sudanese government cease attacks on civilians and support to abusive militias; and

• Call upon Khartoum to cooperate with efforts to hold accountable those responsible for serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur, including by cooperating fully with and providing free access to the International Criminal Court, which is investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Press release signed by the following nongovernmental human rights organizations:

• Arab Organization for Penal Reform

• Bahrain Center for Human Rights (Bahrain)

• Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (Egypt)

• Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (Egypt)

• Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (Egypt)

• Human Rights Information and Training Center (Yemen)

• Human Rights Watch (USA)

• Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (Lebanon)

• Moroccan Organization for Human Rights (Morocco)

• Palestinian Organization for Human Rights (Lebanon)

• Saudi Human Rights Center (U.K.)

• Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (Yemen)

• Sudan Organization Against Torture (U.K.)

• Syrian Human Rights Organization (Syria)

• The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (Egypt)

• The Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners (Egypt)

© Scoop Media

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