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UN Security Council Members to Visit Five African Countries

Members of the UN Security Council begin a 10-day trip to Africa Sunday, visiting some of the continent’s most troubled regions. The trip includes stops in Sudan, Chad, Ivory Coast, DRC and Kenya, where they will meet on the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Somalia.

The group Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to the Security Council urging that it use the opportunity to address pressing human rights issues. Georgette Gagnon is the group’s Africa director. From New York, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why the letter was sent.

“The Security Council is traveling to five countries in Africa, leaving on June first. And in view of the very difficult human rights situations in most of those countries we felt it was important to bring certain issues to the council’s attention. In all of these countries, Security Council action is needed because there are persistent human rights violations and in some places attacks on civilians, rapes, killings, displacements going on in all those places. And the Security Council could take greater action to end these abuses,” she says.

Gagnon says that the visit by council members shows that they view the situations in these countries as “serious and obviously worthy of attention.”

“It shows victims that they are concerned about them. It also shows the governments that they want to see some action to end abuses and improve the situation. However, often, of course, they don’t come back with the results that we would like to see or the commitments from the governments that we think they could implement through pressure,” she says.

Asked for examples of what action could be taken, Gagnon says, “For example, on Darfur, we would like the council to bring to the attention of the Sudanese government the need to surrender these two suspects that are named in arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court. Surrender them to the criminal court. The Sudanese government has refused to do this. There should be sanctions or some other penalty for failing to surrender those suspects.”

As for the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, she says, “We would like the council to support the setting up of an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of serious human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity, which we have documented in Mogadishu and also just outside Mogadishu. These have been going on…for some time and the council has done very little to recognize the seriousness of the situation.”

Human Rights Watch also wants the Security Council to pressure the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Ethiopian troops and the insurgents to permit humanitarian access. The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has been called one of the worst in the world. The violence, combined with the failure of season rains and high food prices have put millions at risk.