Amnesty: "looming human rights crisis" in Darfur

Monday, August 28, 2006

A "peacekeeping gap" is likely to plunge Sudan back into major conflict in the Darfur region, according to Amnesty International. The group today added its voice today to a growing disquiet over the worsening situation in that country, as expressed by the International Rescue Committee.

In a statement, the body’s Executive Deputy Secretary General Kate Gilmore, confirmed concerns that the Sudanese government are arming soldiers in preparation for conflict, despite signing a peace deal in May.

"Eyewitnesses in el-Fasher in North Darfur are telling us that Sudanese government military flights are flying in troops and arms on a daily basis," Gilmore said, urging the international community to act.

The U.N. is discussing a draft resolution today to send 20,000 troops into western Sudan to protect the 2.5 million displaced people. But the Sudanese government has rejected calls for foreign intervention, instead suggesting a 26,000-strong domestic force, which Amnesty opposes.

"How can Sudan — which appears to be about to launch its own offensive in Darfur — realistically propose being a peacekeeper in a conflict to which it is a major party and perpetrator of grave human rights violations," Amnesty officials asked.

Impending conflict

Evidence that Khartoum is arming in preparation for further fighting in Darfur is causing concern among governments about a future genocide. Yesterday the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer flew to the Sudanese capital to urge the government, led by Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, to accept the U.N. force.

"Darfur is on the verge of a dangerous downward spiral," Frazer said, criticizing the U.N. for "foot dragging" on the issue.

The Sudanese government are wholly against the U.N. intervention. National Congress Party chairman Ghazi Salah Eldin Atabani told journalists "any state that sponsors this [U.N.] draft resolution will be regarded as assuming a hostile attitude against the Sudan."

If Darfur does descend into further government-sponsored conflict, the consequences would be devastating for the civilian population, according to Eric Reeves of Democracy Now:

"If this offensive takes place, there will be massive, massive civilian destruction. I think we're also likely to see a withdrawal of virtually all humanitarian workers. This will leave some 1.2 million people completely dependent on humanitarian aid, without any assistance whatsoever," Reeves told the Coalition for Darfur on Saturday.

Sexual assaults rise dramatically

Women and children are most vulnerable as they leave camps to collect firewood.

Meanwhile, the situation for the millions of refugees on the ground is deteriorating rapidly, according to the International Rescue Committee. On Wednesday, the group released statistics which suggest as many as 200 women have been sexually assaulted since the start of July, often as they leave settlements in search of firewood and food.

"This is a massive spike in figures," said the IRC's Kurt Tjossem, "we are used to hearing of 2 to 4 incidents of sexual assault per month in Kalma camp [in southern Darfur]".