01/10/2004

International police force 'must' be sent to Darfur

An international police presence is needed in Sudan's troubled Darfur region to ensure its vast population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are protected, two senior United Nations human rights officials told the Security Council today.

Likening Darfur to a "prison without walls", High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Juan Méndez said that the only way to overcome the IDPs' lack of trust that the police will protect them - especially if they venture out of the camps for wood and food or try to return home - is to include international police officers.

"I think a mere increase in their number [the Sudanese police] is unlikely to restore the lack of faith and actually overcome the sense of insecurity and fear that is prevalent in IDP camps," Mrs Arbour said.

"In some camps, the number of police officers is clearly insufficient: say five police officers just outside a camp of 50,000 IDPs. But it's pretty clear that even when the Sudanese police presence has been considerably increased, it still has virtually no interaction with the camp community and people have no confidence [in them]."

She went on to call for an expansion of the size and mandate of the force of African Union (AU) ceasefire monitors, saying they had shown "an impressive dedication to their work given their limited resources and numbers".

The number of IDPs in Darfur has been swelling since last year to 1.45 million, when Janjaweed militias began attacking villagers after two rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese Government. More than 200,000 refugees have also fled to neighbouring Chad.

Mrs Arbour said that the UN would not support the government's policy of encouraging IDPs to return to their home villages until they felt assured the process would be both safe and voluntary.

Mr Méndez said the international community must be vigilant in the weeks and months ahead.

"In my mind the vulnerability of certain ethnic groups in Darfur is such, and the instability of the situation generally, that we have not turned the corner on preventing genocide from happening in the future or even in the near future," he said.

The UN is in the process of setting up a commission of inquiry to consider whether genocide has happened after the Security Council called for such a commission in its most recent resolution on Darfur.

(gmcg/mb)

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