Sudan: UN human rights chief alarmed by deteriorating situation in South Darfur

GENEVA -- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Tuesday she was alarmed by reports of the rapidly deteriorating conditions facing civilians in the Muhajeria area of South Darfur, where fighting between Government forces and the Sudanese Liberation Army/Mini Minawi faction (SLA/MM) against the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) has resulted in civilian casualties and displaced some 30,000 people.

The fighting, which broke out on 15 January, has reportedly resulted in at least 30 deaths, including women and children, with dozens more wounded. Of the 30,000 people believed to have been displaced, some 5,000 have sought refuge in the vicinity of an African Union-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) military camp in Muhajeria, while many others have fled to other destinations on the outskirts of the town

"The fighting is reported to have involved ground offensives and indiscriminate aerial bombardment by Government forces that failed to distinguish between civilian communities and military targets," Pillay said. "JEM forces are also reported to have deliberately placed themselves in areas heavily populated by civilians, thereby jeopardizing their safety."

The High Commissioner reminded all parties involved in the fighting that international humanitarian law is binding on both state and non-state actors, including armed groups, and called on all sides to respect their obligations, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians.

"I'm extremely concerned at the impact the fighting is having on the already dire humanitarian situation in Muhajeria," Pillay said, noting that aid agencies have been forced to evacuate their staff from the area out of fears for their safety.

The High Commissioner called on the Government and both the armed groups involved in the fighting to allow access to humanitarian relief, in order to prevent a further deterioration of the situation in Muhajeria.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all the parties to the conflict to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities. "I would like to add my voice to that of the Secretary-General," said Pillay. "The fighting must stop, and the warring parties need to join the peace process.