NEW YORK - June 28 - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, traveling to Sudan today, should make it clear to the Sudanese authorities that the international community will protect the civilians in Darfur if the Sudanese government fails to do so, Human Rights Watch said today. Powell has called the situation in Sudan's western Darfur region "a catastrophe."
"The Sudanese government's campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' in Darfur is the root cause of this humanitarian crisis," said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "Powell should press the Sudanese authorities to reverse this 'ethnic cleansing' and permit full humanitarian access."
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has estimated that 350,000 persons may die in the next few months if aid is not substantially increased. The humanitarian emergency has resulted from the Sudanese government's campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against civilians of three ethnic groups-the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa-from which the two rebel groups in Darfur draw their recruits.
On April 8 the Sudanese government signed a ceasefire agreement with the two rebel groups in which it agreed to "neutralize" the Janjaweed, a militia created and supported by the government, and not to commit acts of violence against the civilian population. It also agreed to permit full humanitarian access.
So far, the Sudanese government has not lived up to its agreement. The United States should marshal all its diplomatic resources to gain the support of the U.N. Security Council to invoke Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to take all actions necessary to ensure that both the human rights and humanitarian concerns in Darfur are urgently addressed. The U.N. Security Council should also do what is necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.
The one million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and farms in Darfur are still being persecuted by the same people who displaced them. The Janjaweed continue to loot, rape, and kill them in the displaced camps. Women and girls are raped by both government soldiers and Janjaweed, especially if they venture out of the camps for food or medicine.
"Only by addressing the human rights crisis can the United States and United Nations hope to solve the humanitarian disaster," Rone said.
Despite hard evidence produced by nutritional surveys and satellite photos, the Sudanese government has stated that there is no emergency in Darfur and that the catastrophe is a creation of the international media. However, the U.S. government has produced satellite photographs showing destroyed villages, showing even the numbers of huts burned to the ground where the targeted groups used to live before they were expelled by the Janjaweed.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the naming by the U.S. State Department of seven Janjaweed commanders as responsible for abuses in Darfur, but urged that the government officials implicated in the atrocities also be named and held accountable.
The United States has insisted that the Sudanese government disarm the Janjaweed and reverse the effects of "ethnic cleansing." Human Rights Watch urged the U.S. government also to seek the withdrawal of the Janjaweed from the areas they have occupied, so that the displaced may return home voluntarily and in safety. The Sudanese government has made efforts to present a false picture of 'normalcy' for the international visitors, including payments to displaced to return home and rehearsed 'testimonies' from people who are not displaced.
Humanitarian agencies have seen some restrictions removed, only to face new obstacles as to the use of vehicles and radios placed in their paths by the government. Aid workers are under close surveillance by Sudanese security agents in Darfur, where many are not allowed to talk in confidence to the displaced.
In the April 8 ceasefire agreement, the parties tasked the African Union with creating a commission to monitor the ceasefire, but the accord did not give it a specific mandate to protect civilians. Last week some 120 ceasefire monitors reportedly were deployed in Darfur, consisting of lightly armed African, European and U.S. military personnel under the command of a Nigerian general. They are to be protected, if necessary, by an additional 270 armed troops under the African Union banner.
In the past year, the Sudanese government has armed, trained and deployed Janjaweed militias who have attacked and burned to the ground hundreds of villages, killed thousands of civilians, looted hundreds of thousands of animals and destroyed farming supplies and water sources. Khartoum has backed up the Janjaweed with Sudanese army forces and air support from Antonov airplanes and attack helicopters.
The Sudanese government began the campaign in Darfur in early 2003 in response to surprise rebel attacks on its military garrison in El Fashir, the capital of North Darfur. The rebels destroyed at least seven military planes on the ground, inflicted casualties, including civilian and military deaths, and held Sudanese military personnel captive.