News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Situation in Darfur is deteriorating, Red Cross warns

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 17 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:382
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. London

    The civilian population in Darfur, western Sudan, is still living in fear, and the humanitarian situation has worsened, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross's delegate general for Africa, Christoph Harnisch.

    After a visit to Sudan last week he described a severely deteriorating situation marked by suspicion, fear, and lawlessness. He said: “You can see fear in the faces of the people you meet, and there are numerous reports of violence. It is a grim picture, and there is no place for optimism.”

    A counterinsurgency campaign by the Sudanese government and its allied militias against armed opposition groups has pitted neighbouring populations against each other, says the Red Cross. It adds that it is civilians, rather than the military, militias, or rebel groups, who bear the brunt of the crisis.

    “Darfur today has become a conflict where the level of direct confrontation between government troops and rebel forces is quite low, but the suffering of the civilian population is high,” said Mr Harnisch. “The displacement of so many people disrupted the microeconomic environment. This year's harvest will be between 25% and 50% lower than in normal years, and most rural populations will be affected by food shortages.”

    The looting of livestock and the few existing food stocks has not improved the outlook. The United Nations World Food Programme estimates that between 2.5 and 3 million people in Darfur will need food assistance this year.

    The UN Security Council is currently deliberating the findings of its international commission of inquiry into Darfur. Although the report found no clear evidence of “genocidal intent,” it said: “The conclusion that no genocidal policy has been pursued and implemented in Darfur by the government authorities … should not be taken in any way as detracting from the gravity of the crimes perpetrated in the region.”

    The 178 page report details numerous violations. It alleges that “government forces and militias conducted indiscriminate attacks,” which included “killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement, throughout Darfur.”

    It says: “There was no military necessity for the destruction and devastation caused. The targets of destruction during the attacks under discussion were exclusively civilian objects.”

    The report concludes: “Some of these violations are very likely to amount to war crimes, and given the systematic and widespread pattern of many of the violations, they would also amount to crimes against humanity.” It recommends that the Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, a move opposed by the United States.

    As the Security Council attempts to establish a peacekeeping force after last month's “north-south” peace deal between the Sudanese government and rebel forces in the south of the country, the UN's special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, warned: “Without a solution in Darfur, north-south will not remain a sustainable peace agreement.”

    The Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General is at

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