News archive 2006

Darfur: Time to end this scandal of International neglect

PRESS RELEASE

12 JUNE 2006

DARFUR: TIME TO END THIS SCANDAL OF INTERNATIONAL NEGLECT

On the first day of the June General Meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference, the
Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Social Affairs issued the following statement
on the humanitarian disaster in Darfur:

“Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more
than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal
are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics.” (Pope Benedict XVI,
Deus Caritas Est, 2006, section 28)

The Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs calls on the:
* Irish public to add their voices to those who are calling for an urgent increase in humanitarian aid
to relieve the worst effects of the humanitarian disaster in Darfur;
* Irish Government to pressure the EU and the UN to apply sanctions against the perpetrators
of the Darfur conflict;
* Irish Government to use its good offices as a member of the EU and the UN to ensure an
increase in the number of peace keeping troops in the region;
* Irish Government to use its good offices as a member of the EU and the UN to ensure that
the Sudanese Government and rebel groups halt all attacks on civilians and actively
cooperate with UN authorized aid agencies;
* Sudanese Government to provide the necessary security cooperation, currently lacking, for
aid workers and aid supplies, and to accept a UN peacekeeping force with an effective mandate
to protect civilians;
* Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern TD, to raise these issues with the Government
of Sudan during his visit to Khartoum early next month, in particular accepting a UN
peacekeeping force in Darfur, and disarming the Janjaweed militia in accordance with the
Darfur Peace Agreement signed last month.

Background
The three-year internecine warfare in the Darfur region of western Sudan is one of the
most ferocious and yet under-reported conflicts of the past decade. In terms of human
lives the cost is to be measured in the hundreds of thousands; in terms of human misery
the cost is incalculable. In recent weeks however, this conflict has come to the attention
of the world’s media with the signing in Abuja, Nigeria of a peace agreement between the
Sudanese government and the main rebel faction. The agreement is to be welcomed as a first
step on the path to reconciliation, but it is only a first step, and one that is not before
its time. The last three years have brought immense suffering on to the indigenous, mostly
non-Arab population. No less than a third of the total population, more than two million
people, in an area the size of France, have been displaced from their homes – 200,000 in the
last four months alone. The systematic targeting of civilians, the deliberate destruction
of homes, grain stores and water sources, the abductions, mutilations and the systemic use
of rape offer a sobering picture of ethnic cleansing of the very worst kind. In the face
of such atrocities that are intended to drive out the non-Arab ethnic groups from their
villages it is not possible to remain silent.

Today, in the wake of human rights abuse, the people of Darfur are faced with a humanitarian
disaster of truly frightening proportions. Last year’s harvest was much smaller than usual
due to drought and the fact that many people had fled their land. It is unlikely that those
who have been forced to abandon their homes will be able to return to plant crops in time
for this year’s rainy season, which has already begun. Food insecurity is a growing worry
and, at present, over half the population is reliant on foreign aid. What is particularly
worrying is the evidence that despite the ceasefire, the distribution of aid to remote regions
in Darfur is still being obstructed by the continued fighting between the government of Sudan,
the government supported Arab (Janjaweed) militias and the rebels groups. Administrative
obstacles imposed by the Sudanese Government and the arrest of relief workers has also hindered
the operation. Owing to increased insecurity and bureaucratic restrictions it is estimated
that in these remote areas only 40% of the population can be reached by aid workers.

Calling for an urgent response from the Irish public
Although many lives have been lost in the course of this conflict, it must be acknowledged
that the extent to which whole scale disaster has of yet been avoided is in no small measure
due to the generosity of donor countries. In this respect, the manner in which the relief
effort has been supported both by the Irish public and the government should be acknowledged.
In the summer of 2004 the Irish public responded with extraordinary generosity to a call from
the Irish Catholic Bishops for a collection for Darfur in all churches throughout the country.
More than six million euro was collected, and this has gone some way to enabling Trócaire in
collaboration with other Christian agencies to implement a very effective relief programme to
alleviate the worst effects of the humanitarian disaster. However, the work to ensure a new
beginning for the indigenous population of Darfur free from the threat of violence and poverty
is just beginning. Pope Benedict XVI in his weekly address on May 21st has called for concrete
and swift action to save hundreds of thousands of people from starvation in Darfur. His call
joins that of the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan who has described Darfur as the world’s
worst humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, shortfalls in funding have already forced UN agencies
to curtail their work in response to this crisis, and as we write, the UN World Food Programme
which feeds most of the displaced in Darfur is halving food rations due to under-funding. In
the spirit of solidarity that marks the social gospel, we urge a renewal of the commitment
from the Irish public to alleviate the plight of a people who have been so unjustly treated,
and we call on the Irish public to add their voices to those who are calling for an urgent
increase in humanitarian aid to relieve the worst effects of the humanitarian disaster.

Calling for an urgent response from the Irish Government
The conflict between the government supported Arab (Janjaweed) militias and the mainly
non-Arab rebel forces has its origin in the struggle for scarce land and water resources
and the perception that the Sudanese government favoured the Arab groups – thus upsetting
the delicate balance between these two ethnic groups. While not wishing to absolve the
rebel groups of their share of responsibility for the conflict, it is nevertheless widely
believed that the Sudanese government bears the brunt of the responsibility for this carnage,
in particular through its policy of arming, equipping and paying local Arab militias. However,
irrespective of where the balance of blame for the conflict lies, it is of the utmost importance
that those, from whatever quarter, who have actively fomented the conflict and who are also
guilty of human rights abuses must be held answerable before the International Criminal Court.
We call on the Irish Government to ensure that the EU and the UN follow through on earlier
promises to take action with real sanctions against those who are responsible for the suffering
in Darfur.

The Irish Government through its membership of the EU and the UN has given its support both
to the setting up of a peacekeeping force for Darfur and to the provision of the necessary
financial and logistical support to combat the mounting evidence of shocking human rights
abuses. Now, in the light of the recent urgent appeal by Kofi Annan, United Nations
secretary-general, for immediate funding for a strengthened UN security force in Darfur
to support the fragile peace, we call on the Irish Government to redouble its efforts to
ensure that the current African Union peacekeeping force is augmented and that it is provided
with the necessary financial and logistical support to ensure a proper monitoring of the
ceasefire, the disarming of the various factions, and the orderly return of the displaced
population. The UN mandate should also enable it to act decisively to protect civilians from
attack. In this context, it is important to stress that any returns or relocations of the indigenous
displaced population must be entirely voluntary and carried out in a manner that
respects their safety and dignity. It should also allow for continued access to humanitarian
aid and support for the victims of gender-based violence for as long as that is needed.

In the light of the serious humanitarian situation in Darfur today, we call on the Irish
Government to use its good offices as a member of the UN and the EU to ensure that the Sudanese
government and rebel groups halt all attacks on civilians and actively cooperate with UN
authorized aid agencies in a manner which makes certain that there are no attacks or
unreasonable restrictions on humanitarian personnel and materials. The Sudanese government
should also be pressed both to provide the necessary security cooperation that will enable
aid workers to conduct their vital work free from harassment or threat to life from whatever
source, and to accept a UN peacekeeping force with an effective mandate to protect civilians.

Ends

NOTES TO EDITORS:

* The Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) is a Commission of the
Irish Bishops’ Conference.
* The ICJSA is chaired by Bishop Raymond Field and its role is to support the Bishops’
Conference in promoting the social teaching of the Church and advising on issues of
social concern both nationally and internationally.

Further information:

Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

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