News and Information

U.N. Commissioner Calls for International Police in Darfur Camps
October 1, 2004
United States Department of State (Washington, DC)

September 30, 2004
Posted to the web October 1, 2004

Judy Aita
Washington, DC

Citing fear and insecurity in camps that are "prisons without walls," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights told the Security Council September 30 that a large international police presence is needed in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur.

Reporting on her recent mission to Sudan, High Commissioner Louise Arbour said that increasing the number of Sudanese police "is unlikely . . . to actually overcome the sense of insecurity and fear that is prevalent in the IDP camps."

Talking with journalists after her private meeting with the council, Arbour said that her most important recommendation to the council was "that there should be an international police presence in Darfur to accompany and monitor the efforts of the Sudanese police . . . which are perceived to be an inadequate protection -- correctly so in my view -- by IDPs."

The human rights commissioner said that she was "very impressed with the seriousness of purpose, sense of dedication" of the African Union (AU) monitors now in Darfur. "What is clearly lacking," she said, "is real capacity in terms of speedy deployment and logistics," coupled with the small size of the force.

The mandate of the current AU mission in Darfur is to monitor the cease-fire. When monitors receive a report of human rights violations "they are pretty impotent on what to do," Arbour said.

Arbour and U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Juan Mendez were sent to Darfur by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on September 16 to investigate the situation and recommend what needs to be done to protect the more than 1.45 million civilians who left their homes and are now living in camps throughout the Darfur region out of fear of attack by Jingaweit militias.

Arbour said that in some camps the number of police officers is "clearly insufficient," with about five police officers stationed just outside a camp of 50,000 IDPs. In all camps, even those with a larger police presence, there is "virtually no interaction with the camp community and people have no confidence." In some cases, she said, people in the camp have recognized the Sudanese policemen as members of Jingaweit militias that attacked their villages.

The only way to reverse that lack of trust, the high commissioner said, would be to have international officers accompany the Sudanese police "to monitor their work and assist them in human rights awareness, community relations, and in reporting," Arbour said.

Mendez stressed that his mandate for the trip was not to determine whether genocide had been committed, but to make recommendations on what could be done now to prevent genocide from happening in the future. The Security Council has established an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Darfur, determine whether or not acts of genocide have occurred, and to identify the perpetrators of such violations.

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

"Therefore, we need to be vigilant and to execute certain measures by which we can prevent genocide from happening," he said, without specifying what measures should be taken.

Arbour also said that the people in the camps "expressed their faith and total dependence on the international community for protection. This is where they think their security lies." She said those in the camps welcome every effort by all international actors -- nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations, and the AU.

Arbour described the IDPs as "captive in prisons without walls" where they cannot move outside the camps' perimeters for fear of attacks. Jingaweit attacks against villagers are still ongoing, she said, but the type of attacks has changed.

"What we see now," Arbour said, "are individual attacks on a massive scale, i.e. in all the camps where . . . women attempt to step out to collect firewood there is very widespread preying on these individual victims. So rather than massive attacks on villages, you now see individual attacks on persons but on a very widespread and, again, massive scale."

In that environment, she added, the United Nations cannot support Khartoum's policy of encouraging the IDPs to return home.

"On the basis of seven or eight camps we visited in north, south, and west Darfur I don't see anywhere near conditions that are conductive to safe and voluntary return. People can barely step outside the perimeter of their camps to collect firewood without [a] very realistic fear of being attacked," she said.

"Until there is a serious attempt to address the safety and security concerns, I don't think voluntary and safe return is around the corner," Arbour said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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