IAC emphasises need for peace, humanitarian access

19 December (IRIN)

The International Advisory Committee (IAC) on Sudan has issued a statement in which it underscored "the fundamental importance of a just and lasting peace for the resolution of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan".

It encouraged the warring parties to intensify their efforts towards this end, with appropriate support from the international community.

The purpose of the meeting - which brought together high-level representatives of donors, UN agencies involved in Sudan, international organisations and NGOs - was to examine ways of improving UN/donor coordination, identify joint approaches to humanitarian assistance programming, and to make the IAC more effective in supporting humanitarian assistance in the Sudan, including Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS).

The IAC called on the government of Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and all other parties to conflict in Sudan to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the country.

They could do this by ensuring, in particular: unimpeded access to all populations in need of humanitarian assistance, including cross-line movement of services and personnel; the rights of and protection for beneficiaries, including children; the safety and security of humanitarian assistance workers; and the wide promotion of humanitarian principles and human rights among themselves and their allies.

The meeting issued "a strong call" to the Khartoum government, the SPLM/A and other parties to the conflict to adhere to the fundamental principle of free and unimpeded access to all those populations in need of assistance, with particular concern for areas of chronic denial such as western Upper Nile and Eastern Equatoria.

This "free and unimpeded access" was agreed by the government and SPLM/A - meeting with the United Nations in a Technical Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (TCHA) - in December 1999, but has never been delivered, according to relief officials.

The broad agreement achieved at the IAC, plus "a high-level of buy-in from donor countries", was the main achievement at the Geneva meeting, and would give the UN "a stronger position at the table" at the next TCHA meeting, scheduled for January, humanitarian sources told IRIN on Wednesday.

That said, it was a completely different issue to implement agreements reached, and much would depend on the authority and influence of the government and SPLM/A delegates to the TCHA.

The IAC meeting welcomed the current momentum on access to the Nuba Mountains area of Southern Kordofan, south-central Sudan, hoping that it could still be built upon; and endorsed the American-proposed concept of regular, monthly Days of Tranquillity, as already agreed by Khartoum and the SPLM/A, "not only for polio surveillance, in the first instance, but for all humanitarian assistance".

After the meeting in Geneva on Friday, the IAC encouraged the UN to seek innovative and cost-effective mechanisms to achieve cross-line movement of supplies, services and personnel, especially by river or road rather than air for reasons of cost-effectiveness; and also to ensure risk-free delivery of relief in all areas, including consideration of the concept of "zones of peace".

It was emphasised, however, that such measures must be considered as interim "and cannot replace the achievement of unimpeded and uninterrupted access".

While humanitarian space was among the key issues on the agenda of the IAC meeting, the press statement that emanated also emphasised the importance of establishing a humanitarian programme in Sudan with the capacity to deliver emergency relief to vulnerable and fragile communities, while at the same time promoting life-sustaining activities which would benefit these and other surrounding communities in the longer term.

The meeting also pointed to the importance of planning for future rehabilitation and reconstruction of war-affected areas.

An important refrain in Geneva was that donors should be encouraged to move towards rehabilitation and even longer-term development in areas of Sudan where that was possible, without losing sight of the continuing requirement for emergency, life-saving assistance in other areas, according to humanitarian sources.

"There remain large areas in the war-ravaged southern part of the country which are not affected by war and which have therefore escaped the destruction of armed conflict. In such areas, the communities are coping and, to some extent, beginning to recover," the UN noted in its Consolidated Appeal for Sudan in November.

It was these areas, and parts of central and northern Sudan, that participants at the Geneva meeting had in mind when they spoke of the need for longer-term humanitarian programming to break through "the chronic relief syndrome", sources told IRIN.

The IAC press statement also noted that the safety and security of relief workers (as well as civilians) was "the fundamental responsibility of the warring parties", and encouraged the UN to continue "to challenge the presumption of impunity" which operates in many parts of Sudan.

In this regard, the IAC called on the parties to the conflict "to exercise control over the militia forces that they support and work with, and for which they are therefore responsible".

This was quite a big issue for humanitarian agencies in Sudan, especially those operating in Upper Nile and parts of Bahr al-Ghazal, relief sources told IRIN on Wednesday.

In addition, the IAC urged the warring parties in Sudan "to refrain from carrying out military operations which target civilians and civilian infrastructure", and to adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law.