(New York) -- A coalition of human rights and advocacy groups today warned of rising levels of violence in Darfur during and after the referendum on southern self-determination, scheduled to begin on January 9, 2011. The coalition, including Human Rights Watch, African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies and The Enough Project, urged the UN Security Council to insist on regular public reports on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Darfur and throughout Sudan in order to monitor the situation on the ground adequately.
"There are clear signs that the situation in Darfur is getting worse," said Jehanne Henry, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But the international community is failing to monitor and respond properly to what is happening in Darfur."
Conditions in Darfur have deteriorated in the weeks leading to the referendum, with a resumption of conflict between Sudanese government forces and Sudan Liberation Army rebels loyal to Mini Minawi, a signatory of the now-defunct 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, in several locations in North and South Darfur. Clashes and attacks on civilians by government forces in Khor Abeche, Shearia and Shangil Tobayi have caused the displacement of 32,000 people.
Despite the presence of the United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), civilians remain vulnerable to attacks and human rights violations. In Khor Abeche, South Darfur, government forces even prevented civilians from taking refugee with peacekeepers. Meanwhile, human rights violations, including sexual violence, continue both inside and outside displaced persons camps across Darfur.
"An important first step to improving protection of civilians is to ensure public reporting on the human rights and protection needs, " said Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights. "The UN should at the very least provide regular, thorough and independent public reports on the humanitarian and human rights situation in North Sudan, including Darfur, and in Southern Sudan. "
Information about security in Darfur and the impact of violence on civilians is largely unavailable despite the large presence of UN peacekeepers and civilian staff in Darfur. The UN human rights office has not issued public reports on human rights issues in Darfur for two years. The UN humanitarian coordination office stopped publishing humanitarian needs profiles for Darfur in late 2009, and the peacekeeping force has only recently started releasing basic humanitarian reports. The coalition called on the peacekeepers to expand the geographical scope and detail of their reports.
Government authorities and rebel groups have prevented the UN and other agencies from accessing tens of thousands of displaced people living in many locations in Darfur. The government's arrest of Darfuri journalists and activists in late October and early November, 2010, together with its expulsion of 13 nongovernmental organizations in 2009, have contributed to the information vacuum.
"The international community must not repeat the mistakes of the past and allow conflict to flare up in Darfur when its attention is elsewhere," said Dr. Monica Serrano, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. "By accepting this information blackout, it is turning its back on its commitment to protect civilians from the violence in Darfur."
The coalition also called on Sudanese political parties to respect international humanitarian law and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to populations in need regardless of their ethnicity or location and called on the UN Security Council to insist on the same actions.
Sudan is host to the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in northern and Southern Sudan, and the AU/UN hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
The coalition includes the following organizations:
- Aegis Trust
- African Centre for Peace and Justice
- Arab Coalition for Darfur
- Darfur Consortium
- The Enough Project at the Center for American Progress
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
- Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
- Human Rights First
- Human Rights Watch
- International Refugees Rights Initiative
- Italians for Darfur
- Johanniter Unfall Hilfe
- Save Darfur/GI-Net
- Society for Threatened People
- Sudan Advocacy Forum
- Sudanese Human Rights Monitor (SHRM)
- Waging Peace