International donors and African countries meeting Thursday to boost support for the African Union mission in Darfur must ensure that more AU troops are quickly deployed to protect civilians in the western Sudanese region, Human Rights Watch said today.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and AU Chairman Alpha Oumar Konaré will host the conference, which will bring together officials from the United States, European Union countries and African nations to increase support for the African Union mission in Sudan (AMIS) for Darfur. NATO’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, is also expected to attend. The United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and NATO all have a critical role to play in rapidly boosting protection for the people of Darfur, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch called on donors and troop-contributing countries to agree at the Addis Ababa meeting on a firm timetable for accelerated deployment of 12,300 AU troops. The current African Union mission of 2,400 troops is too small to proactively protect civilians throughout Darfur, a region the size of France. Although current AU plans call for 12,300 troops on the ground by spring 2006, this is not fast enough, according to Human Rights Watch.
“If African countries contribute more troops and donors provide needed technical and logistical support now, it should be possible to speed up protection efforts in Darfur,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The people of Darfur can’t wait until next spring for the African Union to reach its planned troop deployment.”
Gross human rights abuses continue in Darfur, where Sudanese government-sponsored militia known as Janjaweed are attempting to consolidate “ethnic cleansing” by attacking internally displaced persons—mostly farmers—who try to return to their homes. The Sudanese government at the national and state level has taken no serious steps to rein in or prosecute those forces despite several U.N. Security Council resolutions since July demanding such action.
“The security situation remains clearly unsatisfactory for the whole population. Six million people in Darfur are faced with banditry, militia attacks and a devastated economy,” said Takirambudde. “Two million Darfurians have already been displaced, and most farmers will not be able to plant for yet another year.”
The United Nations has estimated that as many as 3.5 to 4 million people in Darfur will not have enough to eat in the next few months. The Sudanese government has recently stepped up its bureaucratic war on the vast humanitarian relief effort that is attempting to help millions of Darfurians. Since December, the Sudanese government has been trying to intimidate some humanitarian agencies in Darfur through arbitrary arrests, detentions and other more subtle forms of harassment.
Human Rights Watch also called for officials participating in the meeting in Addis Ababa to denounce Sudanese government efforts to backtrack on cooperation with relief agencies.
Khartoum is also refusing to grant visas and travel permits to increasing numbers of international journalists. The government’s intimidation and stepped-up denial of access for media to Darfur are part of a recurring effort to reduce international criticism of abuses committed by the Sudanese government and its militia allies in Darfur.
“After being forced to open up Darfur last year, the Sudanese government is now trying to clamp down on access and information,” Takirambudde said. “Constant pressure and vigilance are needed to defend and preserve the ability of the U.N. and other relief workers to have full, unrestricted access to meet the needs of the estimated 3.5 million who will require assistance.”
Human Rights Watch called on the African Union to:
- Urgently and substantially increase the number of forces in the African Union Mission in Sudan to ensure that it is adequately deployed throughout Darfur and has sufficient capacity to protect civilians;
- Strategically deploy AMIS forces in many more small towns and villages throughout Darfur and proactively patrol and secure the main roads for humanitarian, commercial and civilian traffic; and
- Demand that the Sudanese government fully cooperate with, and cease harassment of humanitarian personnel working in Darfur.
Human Rights Watch also urged members of the African Union to:
- Accelerate requests for all financial and logistical assistance needed to urgently deploy troops and police in Darfur;
- Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda and Ghana should plan to maintain a high level of troop and police deployment until the crisis in Darfur is over. Other African countries, particularly members of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, should increase the numbers of troops sent to AMIS or, if they have not contributed troops, they should pledge now to support AMIS by sending military observers and police.
Human Rights Watch called on NATO and donors supporting AMIS with logistics and financing to:
- Provide training support in Addis Ababa or Darfur for African troop-contributing countries’ military and police forces sent to AMIS;
- Provide funds to cover the administrative costs of the African countries that plan for and send military and police forces to AMIS, including in-country transport of those forces to the deployment point;
- Increase and accelerate the pace of logistical support; and
- Intensify pressure on all parties to the conflict to respect the ceasefire.