Highlights of opening remarks of Joint Special Representative, Martin Uhomoibhi at the Press Conference held in Khartoum
(04 April, 2016 at 1100 Hours; Marawi Hall, UNDP Building, Jamia Street)
• Welcome remarks to journalists.
• Today’s press conference gives me the opportunity to share with you the outcomes of the 22nd meeting for the Tripartite Coordination Mechanism held in New York two weeks ago, where I represented UNAMID at this forum. I also have the chance to update on my activities as Joint Special Representative and Joint Chief Mediator as well as inform you about recent activities of the Mission in the first quarter of 2016.
• To begin with, at the 22nd Tripartite Meeting, the AU, UN and GoS delegations welcomed the improved cooperation between the Government and UNAMID. All participants recognized the importance of the Tripartite Coordination Mechanism to address challenges to the effective implementation of the Mission’s mandate, and appreciated efforts made in this regard. The discussions were held in a cordial collaborative atmosphere. They focused on operational matters affecting the successful implementation of UNAMID’s mandate and noted the positive steps taken to expedite visa issuance/renewal and release of goods from customs.
• The forum also discussed progress on the formulation of UNAMID’s Exit Strategy, in line with benchmarks set out in UNSC the AU Peace and Security Council resolutions. The AU, UN and GoS delegations agreed on the need for a clear plan with concrete deliverables, which would be developed during the month of April for discussion at the next Strategic Tripartite meeting to be held in Khartoum towards the end of May.
• Furthermore, I personally applauded the resumption of the monthly technical level bilateral meeting between the Government of Sudan and UNAMID which started in January 2016 and has since provided a good avenue for gradual positive changes over visas, customs clearances, access restrictions among other operational matters.
• In addition to this, I commended the Government of Sudan for the release of 1 million USD which constitutes 50 per cent of its pledge towards the Darfur Internal Dialogue and Consultations process.
• I would like to register a sincere note of appreciation for the warm welcome I received from the Government of Sudan since my arrival to the country as JSR for UNAMID. I am hopeful that the genuinely cordial reception I received from both the Foreign Minister and the Director of NISS continues to be the hallmark of my tenure as UNAMID JSR/JCM. This cordiality culminated in the personal privilege of meeting His Excellency Field Marshal Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, the President of the Republic, whose welcome of me and support to UNAMID is most invaluable at this critical junction of implementing our mandate. I take this opportunity to reiterate our solemn commitment to peace and stability in Darfur and our willingness to work with the GoS and all involved stakeholders in good faith to achieve this common goal.
• Since mid-January 2016, renewed fighting between the Government of Sudan Forces and Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid has led to reportedly tens of thousands of civilians being displaced from in and around the Jebel Marra area into North, Central and South Darfur. Unfortunately most of those displaced are children and women as is the case wherever there is an armed conflict on our planet.
• From the outset of the crisis, thousands of civilians turned to UNAMID to seek refuge and protection, with a majority choosing to settle in close proximity to the UNAMID team sites at Sortoni and Tawilla in North Darfur. Approximately 70 thousand civilians.
• In response, and in locations where it was able to do so, UNAMID mobilized an immediate protection response across military, police and civilian components and in support of the facilitation of the delivery of emergency assistance by humanitarians. Military and police readjusted deployment in concerned areas, reinforcing both personnel and equipment as well as increasing stationary and mobile patrols.
• The UNAMID Sortoni Team Site has been providing the IDPs in its vicinity with protection through presence and 24 hour patrolling inside and around the IDP Gathering Site. Support to humanitarian partners is ongoing priority being given to armed escorts for humanitarian convoys. Provision of water is ongoing by humanitarian actors, with the support of UNAMID, and basic medical assistance continues to be extended to IDPs by three temporary clinics run by international NGOs.
• UNAMID is working in close collaboration with UN Country Team to support water and hygiene issues. Sensitization and risk awareness sessions on the dangers of Unexploded Ordnances (UXOs), especially to displaced children. A Protection Network Committee, comprised of representatives of the displaced, including women, has been established to create a continuous dialogue between UNAMID and the IDPs on their challenges and needs, and to ensure that UNAMID receives timely alerts for any situation that requires the immediate involvement of its peacekeepers.
• Despite the significant efforts made to date, the protection and humanitarian situation continues to remain critical.
• At this point, I would like to emphasize the wider human rights impact of such displacements on civilians and communities in affected areas as such incidents continue to have a negative impact on daily livelihood activities such as farming, firewood and water collection. I would also like to reiterate here that vulnerable groups such as women and children continue to bear the brunt of conflict.
• On its part, UNAMID remains committed to continuing its engagement with Government of Sudan authorities on the need to improve rights and access to justice in Darfur. Additionally, the Mission will, in collaboration with the UN Country Team and donor partners, continue to provide technical support to the transitional justice mechanisms as well as work closely with the National Commission for Human Rights, as well as all parties to the conflict in an integrated approach towards confronting impunity and tackling violations and abuses that contravene international humanitarian law.
• Overall, across Darfur, UNAMID troops and police are becoming more proactive and adopting a more robust posture in protecting civilians. Sadly, on 9 March 2016, we lost a peacekeeper who was killed when an unidentified armed group attacked a humanitarian convoy escorted by UNAMID near Kutum, North Darfur. Our deepest condolences go out to the peacekeeper’s family and loved ones, as well as to the Government of South Africa.
• Another important aspect of the Mission’s mandate that I would like to speak about is the support extended by UNAMID to mediation and reconciliation activities aimed at preventing and mitigating inter-communal conflicts across Darfur. To this end, UNAMID has been facilitating many state and federal government led reconciliation processes like between the Ma’alia and the Rezeigat, the Berti and the Zayadiyah as well as between the Fallata and the Salamat, to urge the parties to the conflicts towards durable peace.
• UNAMID will also support the outcomes of these reconciliation processes by working with the local authorities and Native Administration in the dissemination implementation of any agreement reached by the parties.
• As we look forward to the renewal of the Mission’s mandate, so that a more efficient and agile UNAMID is able to better serve and support the people of Darfur in their pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity, I would like to impress upon the Government of Sudan authorities to allow UNAMID freedom of movement and access for humanitarian actors to reach vulnerable populations in need of assistance, particularly in those areas of Central and South Darfur that have not yet been visited. I also urge both parties to the Jebel Marra conflict to agree to a cessation of hostilities.
• On this note, let me join the UN Secretary General’s welcome of the AUHIP’s signing of the “Roadmap Agreement” aiming to bring together the Government Sudan and other opposition forces; including the Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan Liberation Movement/Minni Minawi, to reach an agreement on a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access and assistance and an inclusive national dialogue process. I also state my commitment to do everything within my capacity to support the joining of other Darfuri movements so that peace is achieved in the region. I would also like to commend the Government of Sudan on signing the Action Plan to Protect Children from Violations in Armed Conflict. Children are the future of any nation and Sudan’s commitment to its children is an indicator of its commitment to the cause of sustainable peace and development.
• We hope that these efforts converge with the DDPD efforts, whose next Implementation and Follow up Committee is to be held in Khartoum next month. We shall be looking forward to meeting you there at on that day where we hold a joint press conference at the conclusion of the IFC consultations.
• Vote of thanks to journalists in attendance.
Near verbatim transcript of the question and answers session at the press conference held by UNAMID JSR Martin Uhomoibhi in Khartoum on 4 April 2016
Question 1; Mohammed Hussain, Radio Afia Darfur: You spoke more than once about access restrictions imposed on the movement of the Mission, What is the nature of these restrictions; and do these restrictions contradict the agreements signed between UNAMID and the Government?
JSR: The first question was about access, and, this is very important, because if the humanitarian actors and UNAMID have no access to areas where there are incidents, it is very difficult to verify and to understand what is going on. One area where not having access has not helped much is in verifying if aerial bombardment has taken place in certain places. We hear reports of aerial bombardments but the fact that UNAMID Military personnel who have the training and capacity to be able to actually say these things cannot verify the on-ground situation makes it a little difficult. So you want us to go by the reports. And you can only say that it is an unverified report. But it is a report all the same. But whereas if we, UNAMID, as the main actors whose word is supposed to mean the truth are able to see for ourselves; we are able to confirm or not confirm. So it works in an incredible way. So access is key.
But another aspect of access challenges is when those who have essential humanitarian things to deliver are not able to reach those who are in need; that also becomes a huge problem. So a critical aspect of UNAMID’s mandate is, therefore, not achieved. So access is key.
We appreciate the challenges also that are involved. For example you don’t want allow them to go into an area where there are military confrontations, but sometimes this also doesn’t quite work; it doesn’t help much. So I think the point is, and this point we had made in all our conversations with the officials of the Government of Sudan, that access is key and that we must, we desire to have access.
On the second question I will give the floor to Ashraf to respond.
Question 2; Mohammed Hussain, Radio Afyat Darfur: A while ago there have been media reports about UNAMID hiding/covering up some humanitarian reports and we know there has been an internal investigation. What are the results of this investigation, is it possible for us to know?
Spokesperson: Mohamed has a great institutional memory, our colleague from Radio Afyat Darfur. But he will also remember that the Mission has been very outward with this episode of its life; when there was an allegation about the Mission covering up all sorts of reports. And of course the UN and the Secretary-General have taken the appropriate robust action and instructed an investigation into these allegations. The outcome of this investigation has been that the Mission has not committed any acts or covered any facts of substance at all. So this has been announced by the UN and this is where the situation is. As I said, one of the good things is having an institutional memory, so thank you Mohamed.
Question 3; Zubaida Ahmed, Al-Intibaha Daily: You talked about the breakdown of trust between the Government and UNAMID. Does this mean that these relations are not on the right track? Especially in relation to UNAMID’s Exit Strategy, exit from Darfur?
JSR: The relations between the Government and UNAMID are on the right track, at this time. And I am talking at least from the time I took duty in January this year. I shall restrict myself to speak about my tenure. So far I have enjoyed warm hospitality; I have enjoyed unfettered access to Government officials. I went through a great length to clarify this. So I believe that cooperation is great between UNAMID hierarchy and the government hierarchy at this time. But we will continue to build on this. And I say this is not the end of it. It is just… it is [inaudible] the beginning for sustainable mediation efforts, interlocution efforts. Having achieved this rapport it is critical that the next stage now is to deliver. And deliver means addressing these issues that UNAMID has a mandate to address. Issues that comprise protection of civilians, as well as mediation, political development; all of it is geared towards attainment of sustainable peace and eventual exit of UNAMID. These are the issues that we have to deal with. But cooperation, access and good relations was extremely critical for proceeding with any of these. So we, as I said we are at the stage now of asking, help me, help me to help you. Help us to work better, so that UNAMID can discharge its critical responsibility.
Question 4; Tom Little, AFP: So you mentioned the talks about the Exit Strategy of MUAMID in Khartoum. Is that correct? How can it be appropriate to hold talks about an exit strategy weeks after the eruption of fighting in the Jebel Marra which displaced 130 thousand people according to UN?
JSR: Well it depends on which side of the exit strategy are you on? There is EXIT is one block, there is STRATEGY is one block. JSR doesn’t belong to either of these blocks. JSR belongs to the perspective that sees Exit Strategy as a compound [inaudible]. You have to have an exit and you have to have a strategy for exit. UNAMID has to have an end. There is no peacekeeping operation for the UN that has to be there for eternity. It is good peacekeeping to be able to assess on what grounds you will leave, because you will have to leave at one day at one time. Not to have a strategy for departure at some point in time I think is not good; is not a good strategy for a UN operation.
What must happen in my view is that all sides must go there and have a conversation. A conversation that is open, that all sides can say what it wants to say.That we have an operation here and we will not talk on how to exit or how not to exit.That is also a possibility, how not to exit. It is also part of an exit strategy. So I don’t want to go there with mindsets, I want to, I am thinking that the purpose for this discussion is to look at the matter in a comprehensive nature and to determine on the basis of the benchmarks; we have the benchmarks on the ground; by the UNSC that preconditions for an exit strategy. And the Exit Strategy is in the Security Council mandate. And the Exit Strategy is a UNSC mandate. So I don’t think there is anything wrong with the obvious need for a discussion or an issue. So there should be no bars, no bars, no bars held on having a conversation about Exit Strategy. It is consistent with what we are required to do by the Security Council and it is also consistent with the traditional view of peacekeeping. And we must go there with an open minds and listening ears. The discussions will of course focus around the benchmarks that are in the relevant SC resolutions. Thank you.
Question 5; Ahmed Younis, Asharq Alawsat Newspaper: Firstly, as Head of the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, do you think that the situation in Darfur reached the stage of discussion on UNAMID’s exit? Secondly, protection of civilians is one of the most important items of UNAMID’s mandate; why the mission waits until civilians have been attacked, flee to internally displaced camps, then it provides them with humanitarian assistance? Is it incompetent to protect the civilians?
JSR: The meeting will not discuss only exit, it will discuss exit strategy, and there is a difference between discussing an exit and discussing an exit strategy so that’s why I said please let us have the two works together. Secondly, Exit Strategy is part of the Security Council’s requirements and conditions, so we have a responsibility to look at it.
Thirdly, we knew also from the experience that no UN Peacekeeping mission operation stays in a country for eternity. There must be a plan to indicate under what conditions and mandate will work and they will eventually leave. True you have incidents in Jebel Marra. This is a big issue that will be part of what should be discussed at this meeting. So my appeal is that those who don’t take sides move into a discussion with an open mind have an open agenda, and mindset for all the views that you have for or against or against and for, but we can’t preclude because we don’t have the right not to discuss! And the freedom of expression and freedom to discuss is the fundamental human right even of an entity like UNAMID. So I think let’s not begin to prejudge. So in any case, the Security Council requires that we have discussion on exit the strategy. All said and done, thank you.
You have a very impressive question about protection of civilians, that it’s one of the major pillars and responsibilities of UNAMID. It is not true that we wait until things happen before we go there, that is not true. I don’t know how many peacekeeping operations anywhere in the world that have undergone such kind of patrols that is mandated within Chapter VII ; that means that 24 hours/ 7 days a week our UNAMID personnel are patrolling areas . In Darfur, UNAMID’s lives, its Police and Military are on the street, patrolling, and, occasionally, we have incidents like the one that I referred to on the 9th of March but that doesn’t stop UNAMID from patrolling to protect lives and protect children. UNAMID continues to discharge its responsibilities, even at the cost of their [peacekeepers] lives.
Question 6; Ezedein Arbab, Alwan newspaper: We all heard the news that South Africa wants to withdraw its army; is it related to the recent accident in which many South Africa army were killed? The second question is that people have been saying UNAMID has failed to do its job. People are getting killed every day even inside the camps; so if your mandate is to protect people, what do you call what is happening? The second thing is that people were displaced by the recent war in Jebel Marra, how are they? Because some people say they are starving and have only one meal a day.
JSR: Thank you very much. I don’t think people are killed every day. I know that South Africa has decided to withdraw, that is a sovereign decision and is perfectly in order if a country that belongs to the entire process. [Member States] voluntarily chooses this.
There is no compulsion in the work what we are doing, so I would expect that within some states’ sovereign rights, so I will just be leaving it to that. But I don’t think that the incident was affecting South African decision. I think that was a decision taken because they have as sovereign right to do so and there is no bonding on any sovereign country that have troops, and I’m happy to inform you that we are expecting a contingent from Tanzania to come soon to join the Mission. We aren’t running out of countries volunteering.
The Spokesperson: With regards to the condition of the newly displaced people as a result of a renewed fighting in Jebel Marra, of course the Mission is discharging its mandated responsibilities in providing physical protection, escorting humanitarian actors and all the rest of it, but we cannot answer on behalf of the UN Country Team who are actually charged with the actual humanitarian activities. This is more a question to the humanitarian side of the UN. But as far as we are concerned we are doing 24/7 patrols and also responding to any threats that may arise. There was a bit of a scuffle in the market at Sortoni, for example, and our peacekeepers were at the scene. So our peacekeepers are actually responding by going out and doing proactive protection as mandated.