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UN human rights commissioner urges end of 'endemic impunity' in Darfur

August 21 - 2015 GENEVA
Darfur camp for displaced people (Eric Reeves)
Darfur camp for displaced people (Eric Reeves)

Serious human rights violations and abuses that occurred in Darfur in 2014, including killings and sexual violence, have largely gone uninvestigated and unpunished, according to a new report by the UN Human Rights Office.

The report, based on information provided by the African Union-UN hybrid Mission in Darfur (Unamid), details cases of human rights violations and reveals widespread impunity. Of the 411 cases documented by Unamid of alleged violations and abuses of the right to physical integrity, very few were investigated or resulted in arrests. Of these, 127 involved the use of sexual violence. These 411 cases are illustrative of a much broader pattern of violence, the report 'Impunity and Accountablity in Darfur for 2014' states.

“The report paints a very grim picture of the systemic failure, or outright refusal, by the authorities to take human rights violations seriously. Most victims have not received justice or any remedies for the wrongs that they suffered,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad El Hussein said.

Police dismiss inquiries

“The casual manner in which inquiries by UN human rights staff have been dismissed by local police is deeply disturbing and indicates the extent to which state officials feel they are above the law. The authorities must bring an end to the endemic impunity in Darfur.”

The report details incidents where Sudanese police and security forces were allegedly involved in physical attacks against civilians, including shooting and killing, as well as abductions, robberies and extortion. Such cases are under reported owing to fears of reprisals and a general lack of trust in the authorities.

Mass rape inquiry impeded

In some cases, the work of UN human rights staff was impeded by difficulties in gaining access, including the refusal of government authorities and armed opposition groups to allow staff to reach areas where serious abuses were alleged to have taken place.

This was the case in Tabit village in North Darfur, where Radio Dabanga reported on 2 November last year that a mass rape had occurred on 31 October 2014. First reports indicated that at least 200 women and girls were raped in Tabit over a 36-hour period. After the initial denial of access by the government, Unamid was finally allowed to visit Tabit on 9 November, but because of the presence of Sudanese soldiers and security personnel, residents were reluctant to speak freely and the research team reported not finding any evidence for the mass rape. Further requests for access were denied by the authorities.

At least 221 women and girls were raped in Tabit in the period between 31 October and 2 November, victims and eyewitnesses later told Human Rights Watch investigators, whose report was published in February.

The UN report also documents violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, including indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian areas, burning of villages, and destruction of other civilian property. These were important reasons for the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the Unamid on 29 June. Earlier initiatives by the Sudanese government to address the situation, including the creation of the Special Court for Crimes in Darfur in 2003 and the revision of the Criminal Code of 1991, have so far been ineffective - reflecting a lack of will to address impunity, the report states.

In his statement, El Hussein urges the Sudanese government and the armed opposition groups to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of violations of international human rights, including with the International Criminal Court. President Omar Al Bashir is wanted by the Hague-based court for a number of counts, including war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

High Commissioner El Hussein said that the UN stood ready to continue to assist the government to ensure accountability and victims’ rights to redress, but that it was ultimately a question of political will.

Impunity and Accountability In Darfur 2014 - Report of the UNHCHR, August 2015

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