Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sudan: UN must protect fragile peace in lead-up to referendum

Source: Refugees International (RI)
Date: 14 Jun 2010

Comprehensive Strategy Critical to Prevent Wider Humanitarian Crisis

New York, NY – In advance of today's high-level United Nations Security Council meeting on Sudan, Refugees International (RI) urged the Council to develop and implement a Sudan-wide strategy to minimize violence and ensure safety for vulnerable Sudanese leading up to and following the planned January 2011 referendum for southern independence. In a letter to Susan Rice, United States ambassador to the UN, RI president Dan Glickman said the UN should assist in the pre-referendum voluntary return of southern Sudanese displaced in the Khartoum area and plan for the protection of civilians in transition areas between north and south Sudan.

A Refugees International team just back from Sudan found that southerners displaced to the Khartoum area overwhelmingly want to return to south immediately, before the referendum. In its letter, RI wrote:

"Southern internally displaced persons (IDPs) expressed concern about their physical safety and rights in Khartoum after the referendum. The displaced do not trust national security actors to protect them, and it is unlikely that UNMIS [the UN peacekeeping force] will be in a position to offer physical protection. If the physical security of southern IDPs in Khartoum is seriously threatened, there could be large-scale spontaneous population movements out of the area. It is unlikely that humanitarian agencies would have the capacity to respond, leading to increased vulnerability and undermining an already fragile humanitarian situation."

RI also expressed serious concern about potential outbreaks of violence in the contested "three areas" that lie between north and south Sudan. These areas were the site of some of the deadliest fighting during the 22-year war which ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In the case of renewed violence it is unclear who would respond to protect civilians. It remains uncertain whether or not the UN mission in Sudan, UNMIS, will continue its presence after the referendum. RI asserted that it is essential that the UN is prepared to protect the safety of civilians whether that task is delegated to UNMIS or to another protection actor, such as United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).

"Planning now needs to move from scenarios to action. International actors need to start thinking in concrete terms about the possible risks to vulnerable communities… and make specific plans about how the international community, as represented by UNMIS and the UN country team, will respond," Mr. Glickman wrote in the letter. "We are hopeful that Monday's meeting will provide the opportunity for the UN to develop concrete recommendations to address our concerns and that this meeting will result in necessary Security Council leadership as Sudan approaches this extremely volatile period."