/ 6 March 2009

UN: Sudan aid group ban possibly a war crime

The United Nations human rights office will examine whether Sudan’s decision to expel aid groups constitutes a breach of basic human rights and possibly a war crime, a spokesperson said on Friday.

Rupert Colville said the Sudanese decision to expel relief workers from 13 of the largest aid groups constitutes a ”grievous dereliction” of duty, putting the lives of thousands at risk.

Sudan ordered the organisations out after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict. It has accused the groups such as Care and Save the Children of cooperating with the court and giving false testimony. The groups deny the accusations.

”To knowingly and deliberately deprive such a huge group of civilians of means to survive is a deplorable act,” said Colville, who speaks for UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.

”Humanitarian assistance has nothing to do with the ICC proceedings. To punish civilians because of a decision by the ICC is a grievous dereliction of the government’s duty to protect its own people.”

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sudan’s decision will cause ”irrevocable damage” to humanitarian operations in Darfur and called on the government to urgently reconsider its decision.

At least 2,7-million people in the large, arid region of western Sudan have been driven from their homes in the war between Darfur rebels and the government since 2003. Ban said 4,7-million people in Darfur are receiving aid.

The UN has identified the NGOs expelled as Oxfam GB, Care International, Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland, MSF-France, Mercy Corps, Save the Children Fund-UK, Save the Children Fund-US, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee, Action Contre La Faim, Solidarites, CHF International and Padco.

Sudan’s expulsion order removes 40% of the aid workers in Darfur, about 6 500 national and international staff, said Catherine Bragg, the UN’s deputy emergency relief coordinator. She said at UN headquarters that 76 NGOs had been operating in Darfur along with all major UN agencies.

While the UN had taken into account the possibility of expulsions following an arrest warrant for al-Bashir in its contingency planning, she said the order to leave immediately ”was a bit of a surprise”. — Sapa-AP