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Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Irish bishops call for end to 'scandal' of Darfur
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 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: DARFUR: TIME TO END THIS SCANDAL OF INTERNATIONAL NEGLECT "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. Source: Irish Catholic Media Office
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