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UN could have averted Darfur catastrophe – new MRG report

16 October 2006

The catastrophe in Darfur could have been averted if the UN and the wider international community had heeded early warning signals and acted upon them, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in a report.

The London-based human rights organisation says that despite failing in Rwanda ten years earlier, the UN and international community did not learn from their mistakes and put in place a system to predict and combat escalating ethnic strife.

‘Darfur would just not be in this situation had the UN systems got its act together after Rwanda: their action was too little too late. This level of crisis, the killings, rape and displacement could have been foreseen and avoided,’ Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director says.

‘The warning signs that the conflict was worsening went ignored and the information that trickled in was not effectively used by the international community to prevent the catastrophe.’

‘The negligence of the plight of minority groups was fundamental to the rise in violence and yet the minority and human rights dimension was continuously ignored,’ Lattimer adds.

The report titled Minority Rights, Early warning and conflict prevention: lessons from Darfur stresses the point that human rights violations of minority groups often lead to conflict. In Darfur in particular, the Sudanese government in collusion with the Arab militia, the Janjawid, have been actively fomenting division among ethnic communities over a long period of time.

The report states that apart from a few exceptions, alarms raised by the Sudanese minority groups and human rights activists were hardly picked up by international human rights bodies, the international media and conflict organizations until 2003.

According to the report as early as 2001, the UN Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Sudan began paying particular attention to Darfur reporting his concerns on the deteriorating situation there. Despite this, in 2003, the UN’s main human rights watchdog, the Commission on Human Rights, removed Sudan from its watch-list and ended the mandate of the Rapporteur.

Even as the conflict intensified, and the makings of a full-scale disaster were evident, the UN continued to fail to act. In 2003, the most senior UN official based in Khartoum at the time had only a mandate to deal with humanitarian and development issues and lacked the political clout to engage on Darfur, the report says.

‘This report clearly shows that the UN was given several opportunities to act on Darfur but failed to do so,’ says Zoe Gray, MRG’s conflict and genocide expert.

The report says by late 2003, there was just one junior international staff member dedicated full-time to Darfur in Khartoum, and no international UN staff deployed in Darfur.

The report is also critical of the sole concentration that the international community placed upon settling the long-running conflict between North and South Sudan, at the expense of dealing with the emerging crisis in Darfur. In 2003/4, the peace negotiations between the SPLA rebels of the South and the Khartoum government in the North had reached a delicate stage.

‘Calls for greater focus on Darfur were seen as a peace spoiler at the time and the Sudanese government and parties steering the peace process failed to realize the connection between the Darfur conflict and the wider Sudanese one,” Gray says.

In the past two years up to 300, 000 civilians have died, 2.5 million people have been displaced and an untold number of women have been raped.

The report argues that despite the crisis in Darfur, and the earlier disaster of Rwanda, the UN still does not have a proper, co-ordinated early warning system. Amongst the key recommendations, is for the creation of a more integrated early warning system, which picks up on escalating human rights abuses. It suggests that UN member states develop rapid-response capability, so that teams with expertise on conflict resolution and on minority-rights issues, can be deployed at an early stage to attempt to head off catastrophes like Darfur.

Notes to editors