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Concerns Over Sudanese IDP Relocation Plan
A refugee camp in Darfur. (Photo: USAID)
The United Nations and human rights experts this week criticised plans drawn up by the government of Sudan to relocate thousands of people already displaced by the ongoing conflict in Darfur.
There is concern that the planned move of the internally displaced people, IDPs, currently living in Kalma camp, south Darfur, would be unlawful under international conventions if not undertaken voluntarily by the residents themselves.
UN humanitarian official John Holmes told a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York this week that any move to proposed new camps must be must be voluntary and based on free and informed decisions by the IDPs themselves.
Human rights groups have also expressed concern.
“If the IDPs are removed with their consent, the measure will be natural and acceptable,” Hafiz Mohammed, director of the rights group Justice Africa, told Radio Dabanga. “But if they are removed by force the action will be illegal.”
The government’s plans come in the wake of weeks of unrest in Kalma, which hosts approximately 100,000 Darfuris. Parts of the camp now lie abandoned with up to 20,000 people thought to have left.
The recent turmoil started in late July when demonstrations by opponents of peace talks with the government turned violent. Backers of the Sudan Liberation Army, SLA, clashed with supporters of the talks currently taking place in Doha. Several deaths were reported in the violence.
“The problem is that weapons are flowing all over the place, not just in the camps but outside,” Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who currently chairs the Security Council, said following a meeting on the situation.
The Sudanese government says the planned move is being undertaken for security reasons as well as because of the camp’s proximity to an airport and railway lines.
“We are thinking about other alternatives for Kalma, in the form of three or four camps where we can guarantee the presence of police and provide security for the people,” Abdel Karim Musa, deputy governor of South Darfur and government spokesman told Radio Dabanga this week.
But human rights experts say it is not for Sudan’s government to decide on moving the camp’s residents. They also point out that any relocation that is against the will of the IDPs would go against international law.
“These people were displaced because of armed conflict. Therefore no party of this conflict should claim their protection,” explained London-based lawyer Ali Agab. “These are camps populated by IDPs from a recognised conflict which the government of Sudan is part of; and according to international conventions such as the Geneva Convention the government of Sudan is considered to be part of this conflict.”
Agab said the protection and security of the IDPs was the sole responsibility of the UN and the international presence in Darfur.
According to Abdel Karim, the government has informed the African Union/UN operation in Darfur, UNAMID, of its plans and not heard any objections.
However, a spokesman for UNAMID said that although had been informed of the plan, it had not assented to such measures and that there must first be agreement between all parties concerned – the IDPs, UNAMID and the government of Sudan.
There are fears that the security situation outside the camp makes it inappropriate for IDPs to return home or be moved to other areas.
“Whether it is safe for the IDPs to leave camps poses a question of the security outside the camps, and this should be verified and assessed carefully,” Mohammed said. “But if the government ignores this and tries to impose new situations according to its justifications this will not lead to any good results.”
Abdel Karim stressed that some IDPs were happy to move.
“All those IDPs who view the camp as a place of temporary residence until peace is achieved, and not a hub for armed movement, are now willing to leave the camp,” he said. “They want to be where peace and security is present, no matter whether this is in Kalma or in Nyala city, or anywhere.”
Concerns have also been raised about the recent two-week blockade of humanitarian aid destined for Kalma camp.
The government blocked access by UN agencies and other aid organisations after the violent protests broke out in the camp. While access is now reported to have opened up, IDP leaders inside Kalma said supplies were still not getting through.
“Since the start of this problem on July 23, no food supplies have come into the camp,” one IDP leader said this week. “It is true that they [the government] have allowed some aid organisations... but they were even only allowed in for two hours a day. The majority of the other organisations are still not allowed to enter Kalma camp. This causes us a lot of suffering because of the food shortage.”
Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch have expressed concerns about the blockade.
“It undermines [the IDP’s] rights to basic services and it also violates the agreement the government made with the United Nations, the SOFA [Status of Forces] Agreement, in which it guaranteed freedom of movement everywhere,” Jean Henry, a senior researcher based in South Sudan, said.
The SOFA deal was signed between the Khartoum government and UNAMID in February 2008 to establish the legal framework for the latter’s operations in Darfur.
The government this week denied blocking aid access, blaming instead a lack of security.
“We haven’t been preventing aid organisations from entering the camp and delivering food, but they are afraid to go in for safety and security reasons because of the presence of firearms,” Abdel Karim said.
Abdel Karim also emphasised the government’s responsibility towards the IDPs and its duty to move them out of Kalma camp.
“SOFA shouldn’t jeopardise the sovereignty of Sudan,” said Abdel Karim. “Responsibility for protection of the Sudanese people lies with the government.”
Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and Lawyers, said the government’s actions in blockading food could be classified as the commission of war crimes against victim populations.
Three current or former members of the government – including President Omar al Bashir – have been charged by the International Criminal Court, ICC, with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Three counts of genocide were added to Bashir’s arrest warrant in early July. The government denies the charges and says it does not recognise the ICC.
“Not allowing international organisations to give aid to these people means you are committing crimes against humanity. And that is stated very clearly in article seven of [the ICC’s founding treaty] the Rome Statute,” Amin said.
Tajeldin Abdhalla Adam is a Radio Dabanga reporter and IWPR trainee. Assadig Mustafa is working with Radio Dabanga. Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague and producer of a radio show for Radio Dabanga about justice issues.
The article was produced in cooperation with Radio Dabanga (http://www.radiodabanga.org/), a radio station for Darfuris run by Darfuris from The Netherlands.
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