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Spotlight falls on Sudan as African Commission calls on state for answers

25 May 2004

The African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) currently meeting in Banjul,is considering the state report of Sudan amid mounting NGO pressure for a strongly worded resolution on the current situation in the troubled Western region of Darfur. The crisis has been a high priority for NGOs, including Minority Rights Group International, which have made numerous interventions and briefingsl and updated and lobbied commissioners to push Sudan for answers and commitments. Media reports and refusal by Sudan to allow access to the region have fuelled speculation of state sponsored ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Pressure for action has contributed to commissioners asking direct questions of the state delegation regarding whether they refute allegations that the government are working in conjuction with, and arming militias accused of carrying out attacks in Darfur. Other questions have addressed what the government is doing in regard to UN recommendations made in its mission report of 7 May (see hyperlink below), and to what extent the government can exercise effective control in the region. The onset of the rainy season has led to growing concern over an impending humanitarian crisis and the ability to deliver and distribute humanitarian aid in a situation of ongoing attacks by Janjaweed militias. This problem is particularly acute given reportedly vast numbers of internally displaced people and those who have fled to neighbouring Chad.

Humanitarian organizations and the UN have been highly critical of delays and obstruction in gaining access to the region in recent weeks. However, a number of journalists, including those of the BBC, have been able to gain access to the region via Chad and have reported widespread village destruction by militias, continuing bombing by Sudanese government planes, and evidence of systematic killings, rape and burning of villages. The ACHPR’s own mission to Darfur could not proceed due to the government’s refusal to allow access, leading to further pressure on Sudan to make commitments to allow it to fulfil its mandate and travel to the region.

In a further worrying development questions have been raised at the Commission about the disproportionate number of women and girls in refugee camps in comparison to men. While many of the men may have joined rebel groups fighting the Janjaweed militia, concern was raised regarding the whereabouts of many others. Allegations of widespread rape and sexual violence substantiated in the report of the UN mission, have also raised serious concern and calls for further investigation to determine the extent of these violations. The UN report described a ‘reign of terror’ and ‘massive human rights violations’ perpetrated by the government and its proxy militia.

NGOs have high expectations of a strongly worded resolution on Sudan from the ACHPR to enhance that recently adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights. The latter was greeted with NGO frustration for not being more openly critical or establishing the means for immediate action to address the situation. MRG was among other NGOs calling for a further mechanism such as a Special Rapporteur or ‘focal point’ to follow up and lead on the issue of Darfur for the Commission.