Friday, March 6, 2009

GENEVA – The U.N. human rights office will examine whether Sudan's decision to expel aid groups constitutes a breach of basic human rights and possibly a war crime, a spokesman said Friday.
Rupert Colville said the Sudanese decision to expel relief workers from 13 of the largest aid groups constitutes a "grievous dereliction" of duty, putting the lives of thousands at risk.
The World Food Program says some 1.1 million of the 2-3 million people it feeds each month are dependent on deliveries from the groups that have been expelled.
Sudan ordered the organizations out after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict. It has accused the groups such as CARE and Save the Children of cooperating with the court and giving false testimony. The groups deny the accusations.
"To knowingly and deliberately deprive such a huge group of civilians of means to survive is a deplorable act," said Colville, who speaks for U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. "Humanitarian assistance has nothing to do with the ICC proceedings. To punish civilians because of a decision by the ICC is a grievous dereliction of the government's duty to protect its own people."
"This decision by the government could threaten the lives of thousands of civilians," living in camps in Darfur and elsewhere, he added.
A senior foreign ministry official in Khartoum, Mutrif Siddique, said the Sudanese humanitarian affairs ministry, which is responsible for the work of aid agencies, is aware the expulsion of these organizations will have an impact on people in Sudan.
"This ministry and authorities have made arrangements to avoid a food shortage or a medical crisis," he said. "There will be a partial effect and they (authorities) will work to avoid any shortage.'
Siddique claimed that major U.N. aid agencies were not affected by this expulsion decision and stressed that "hundreds of Sudanese NGO workers remain and work in Darfur."
The World Food Program questioned whether the remaining aid groups would be able to fill the gap.
"We simply don't have the capacity to carry out the life saving work of the NGOs," said the agency's spokeswoman in Geneva, Emilia Casella.
Under the Geneva Conventions it is illegal to intentionally starve people to death by blocking their access to food. The rule applies to international conflicts, but efforts have been made to incorporate it in customary international humanitarian law, which would carry weight in courts.
Other U.N. agencies also expressed concern about the consequences of losing their aid partners. The World Health Organization said it would tear a hole in the body's disease monitoring efforts that could lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases going unchecked.
"If they are not helping us do this very vital work, we may see the emergence of infectious diseases," said WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib.
There is currently an outbreak of meningitis in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, she said. One of the groups, Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland, was carrying out meningitis vaccinations in the area before it was expelled.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sudan's decision will cause "irrevocable damage" to humanitarian operations in Darfur and called on the government to urgently reconsider its decision.
At least 2.7 million people in the large, arid region of western Sudan have been driven from their homes in the war between Darfur rebels and the government since 2003. Ban said 4.7 million people in Darfur are receiving aid.
Sudan's foreign ministry official indicated that Khartoum might try to stem mounting tensions over the expulsion order by seeking a compromise with the aid groups.
Asked if there is a chance Sudan will reconsider the expulsion, Siddique said that "there is no such thinking" but that "alternatives remain open."
On the question of whether the expulsion could constitute a war crime, his answer was defensive.
"Their campaign against us continues," he said, without elaborating who "they" are but apparently referring to the ICC and anyone accusing Sudan of wrongdoing in Darfur.
"They are ignoring that the Sudanese government has diverted some of its oil revenues to provide for Darfur," Siddique said.
The U.N. has identified the NGOs expelled as Oxfam GB, CARE International, MSF-Holland, MSF-France, Mercy Corps, Save the Children Fund-UK, Save the Children Fund-US, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee, Action Contre La Faim, Solidarites, CHF International and PADCO.
Sudan's expulsion order removes 40 percent of the aid workers in Darfur, roughly 6,500 national and international staff, said Catherine Bragg, the U.N.'s deputy emergency relief coordinator. She said at U.N. headquarters that 76 NGOs had been operating in Darfur along with all major U.N. agencies.
The U.N. humanitarian coordination office says the global body will have a hard time making up for the loss of its aid partners.
Christophe Fournier, president of Medecins Sans Frontieres' umbrella group, MSF International, said there was "absolutely no way" the remaining aid workers would be able to meet the needs of the population in Darfur.


The only thing the U.N. is good for is whining when it comes to Darfur. They've said Bashir was behind the genocide back in '01 and where is he now? Thumbing his nose and sneering at all of us from his presidential stronghold. This is maddening and sick. What does it take for them or anyone to see the over all picture is GENOCIDE!!!!

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