17 October 2005

The Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) issued the following statement following a mission to Southern Sudan from 4 to 13 October 2005:

Since the formation of the Government of National Unity and the events following the death of Vice President Dr. John Garang, many of the 4 million Sudanese displaced during the armed conflict are hoping to return to their homes soon and thousands have already started doing so. But the lack of resources and infrastructure, the volatile security situation and the absence of solid state structures in the South pose serious threats to the human rights of returnees and IDPs. “The Sudanese authorities, the international community and the donors need to do much more to ensure the protection of the rights of these persons. Future problems can be avoided if all relevant actors work closely together and take the necessary steps now.”

This is the main conclusion of the Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Mr. Walter Kälin, who undertook an official mission to Sudan from 4 to 13 October 2005, visiting Khartoum and several states in the South.

The Representative called on all relevant actors to respect all rights of internally displaced persons, including the right to be fully informed and consulted about available options, and to freely choose whether they want to return, locally integrate or resettle elsewhere, as stated in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. In particular, authorities in Khartoum should reconsider plans to relocate camps and irregular settlements of internally displaced persons without offering them viable alternative accommodation as they may trigger involuntary returns. The Representative also cautioned that the promotion of premature return may cause serious humanitarian problems.

“Despite the peace, returnees in many areas fear for their safety due to militia activities, armed civilians and land mines. Some returnees are illegally taxed and looted during their long journeys. When they arrive, many remain without shelter, sufficient food, clean drinking water and access to medical services. Parents whose children attended schools during their displacement in the North fear that youths now remain without education since the few schools in the South are already overburdened. It is predictable that these problems will increase once larger numbers of internally displaced persons return.”

The Representative highlighted the need to provide returnees with humanitarian assistance and protection right now and to release the necessary funds. He called on the international community and the Sudanese authorities to expand their presence to all parts of the South in order to better monitor and protect persons who continue to be in displacement in Southern Sudan or are returning to their places of origin. The Representative also stressed the need to strengthen institutions enforcing the law, such as the police and the judiciary, and to create mechanisms for the settlement of disputes such as about land and property issues.

“To make return to the rural areas possible, humanitarian assistance and recovery activities such as rebuilding basic infrastructure should go hand in hand and should be flexible and unbureaucratic. Furthermore, every effort should be undertaken to remove militias integrated into the Joint/Integrated Units from areas of return and to demobilize armed elements.”

The Representative expressed his hope that the positive attitude of the authorities and the generosity of receiving communities will translate into effective and sustainable measures fully supported by international agencies, NGOs and donors, contributing effectively to ending the suffering of large numbers of people affected by the past conflict.

The Representative visited Khartoum and the surrounding IDP camps and settlements at Shikan, Al Fatah 3 and Mayo, and traveled to Abyei, Kadugli, Malakal, Malualkon, Rumbek and Juba. He met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, the Minister for Planning and Public Utilities, the Vice-President of Southern Sudan, the Deputy Governor of Khartoum and the Acting Governor of Malakal, representatives of HAC and SRRC and other officials, local authorities, members of the judiciary, representatives of the UN and other international organizations, community leaders, members of civil society and IDPs themselves. At the 60th session of the UN General Assembly in October 2005, the Representative will answer questions concerning his preliminary conclusions on his mission to Sudan. In March 2005, the Representative will present the full report of his findings and recommendations to the UN Commission on Human Rights.