A senior U.N. official says the Sudanese government is not doing enough to provide security for people displaced by fighting in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan. The official made his comments as a U.N. deadline for the Sudanese government to restore security and order to the region expired.
The special adviser to the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator on Displacement, Dennis McNamara, painted a grim picture for reporters about rapes, murders, and other violence that he said people in Darfur are regularly subjected to.
Mr. McNamara, who returned Sunday from a five-day tour of three areas in Darfur, says people there described how a pro-government militia known as the Janjaweed is terrorizing the traumatized population.
He says there is what he calls a "protection crisis" in the region, as the Janjaweed and others continue to operate with impunity.
"There is no functioning, independent, national justice system in Darfur at present," he said. "That means that perpetrators of violence, including sexual violence, are not prosecuted by the courts. I know of no prosecution. If that is correct, there is no deterrent, which is part of a normal justice system, to this, unless it's a military deterrent."
The U.N. official's comments are in sharp contrast to the Sudanese government's claim that it has greatly improved the security situation in Darfur.
Last week, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told VOA that his government recently arrested 200 Janjaweed fighters and that it is in the process of convicting and jailing them.
Under terms of an agreement between the Sudanese government and the United Nations last month, the Khartoum government is supposed to disarm the Janjaweed, provide security to the more than 1.2 million people who have been displaced by the fighting, and allow humanitarian aid to reach those affected by the 18-month-old conflict.
The United Nations had given the Sudanese government 30 days to do so or face possible political or economic sanctions.
The U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, is scheduled to present his report on the situation in Darfur to the Security Council on September 2. A spokeswoman for Mr. Pronk says she does not know when the Security Council will decide on the sanction question.
Mr. McNamara says humanitarian access to Darfur has greatly improved and that internally displaced people are finally getting most of the assistance they need. But he says insecurity is still rampant.
"The government of Sudan, the authorities, of course need to be pressed to take more effective preventive measures," he said. "Security needs to be improved, perpetrators need to be prosecuted, and, with great respect, the military are not always the best people to protect civilians. You must have functioning civil police, you must have civilians on the ground, you must have justice courts working if you want real protection. It is not enough just to have troops."
Mr. McNamara also calls for African Union monitors stationed in Darfur to have what he terms a "robust monitoring and verification role."
More than 100 observers are monitoring a cease-fire agreement the rebels and government signed in April. A force of 155 Nigerian troops headed out for Darfur Monday to join another 150 Rwandan troops already on the ground.
The African Union forces are there to protect the cease-fire monitors. The pan-African organization is currently negotiating with the Sudanese government to send up to 2,000 troops to Darfur.