U.N. Official Calls Violence in Darfur 'Horrific'

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 30, 2006

Atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan are occurring daily at a "horrific" level, the top U.N. human rights official said yesterday, adding that countries in the region were "in denial" about the situation.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, told a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva that the Sudanese government and an allied militia called the Janjaweed were "responsible for the most serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."

"The atrocities must stop," she said.

Arbour's rebuke came a day after the 47-member Human Rights Council rejected a resolution from European countries and Canada calling on Sudan to prosecute those responsible for the violence. The council instead adopted a resolution urging all parties involved in the conflict to "put an immediate end to the ongoing violations" with a special focus on "vulnerable groups."

The conflict began in early 2003 when rebels rose up against the government, which responded by arming and supporting the Janjaweed, human rights groups say. As many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence, and 2.5 million have been displaced.

In a separate briefing, the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, said it was "very strange" that the council "was quiet on Darfur for such a long time."

"They obviously do not meet the raped women and the abused civilians. They do not see the true picture," Egeland said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Manuel Aranda da Silva, said in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, that the forced departure of a Norwegian relief organization from Darfur this month had left 300,000 people without support.

Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen said in a telephone interview from Oslo that the Norwegian Refugee Council had operated the largest camp for displaced people in Darfur and had been expelled for its vocal defense of civilians and rape victims, and for its mandate to protect vulnerable people.

Conditions in Darfur were now "very serious," said Johansen, who has traveled to the region twice.

The Norwegian Refugee Council left Darfur on Nov. 10. Sudanese authorities said the group falsely reported 80 rapes outside a camp in South Darfur and accused it of espionage for reporting on Sudanese military movements, according to the Reuters news agency.

"The NRC's management of the camp in southern Darfur, the biggest IDP [internally displaced persons] camp, has been a thorn in the eye of Khartoum since the very beginning," Johansen said. The group had documented violence, including attacks against women who ventured out of the camps to collect firewood.

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