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UN Human Rights Chief Seeks Greater International Presence in Darfur - 2004-09-28

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, is calling for a big increase in the number of United Nations peacekeepers, human rights monitors and aid agencies to ensure security in Darfur. Ms. Arbour, who has just returned from a five-day visit to Darfur, says the international community must redouble its efforts to protect the citizens of Darfur.

The U.N.'s top human rights official, Louise Arbour, says there is a great sense of insecurity and fear among the internally displaced people she met in Darfur camps. She describes conditions in the camps as miserable. While people told her they would like to go back home to a more normal life, she says they are too afraid to return to the villages they fled. She says they do not trust the government of Sudan to protect them.

Ms. Arbour says the people believe the government is in collusion with their attackers, the Arab militia known as the Janjaweed.

"They claim that when they attempt to leave the narrow perimeters of the camps, they are invariably attacked and their efforts to report these attacks to the authorities lead nowhere and that is prevalent in virtually all the camps we attended?." she said. "At this point, I think the core crisis is one of safety and security."

But Ms. Arbour also notes much progress has been made in getting food and other assistance to the approximately 1.5 million displaced people in Darfur. She says security now is the greatest crisis and it must be addressed with great urgency and seriousness.

The high commissioner is leaving for New York, where she will be meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Ms. Arbour says she will tell him of the urgent need to greatly increase the number of international soldiers on the ground. She says private aid agencies must be given more financial support to carry out their humanitarian work, and she says U.N. agencies also need to expand their presence in Darfur, starting with human rights monitors from her own office.

"We now have eight people who are and have been operational in the field for some time," she said. "We will double that as soon as we can deploy them. And, I think everybody has to increase their presence. I have to say again when you speak to IDP's (Internally Displaced Persons) they again systematically stress that the only comfort, the only sense of security that they develop is when they feel that the world is watching and they are accompanied by internationals. So, I think it is absolutely critical. "

High Commissioner Arbour says there is a great difference between the reality in Darfur and the way the Khartoum government sees the situation. One of the most worrisome examples of this, she says, is the way the government minimizes the extent and gravity of rape and sexual violence against women in Darfur.