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'Sudan aid expulsion will put millions at risk'

UN agencies warned Friday that Sudan's decision to expel 13 international aid groups will leave more than a million people without food or health care and could threaten thousands of lives.

world Updated: Mar 06, 2009 19:00 IST

UN agencies warned Friday that Sudan's decision to expel 13 international aid groups will leave more than a million people without food or health care and could threaten thousands of lives.

The 13 Non Governmental Organisations, including Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) account for half of the relief aid delivered in the region of Darfur, the UN humanitarian coordinator's office (OCHA) said.

They often act as subcontractors to UN agencies delivering official international relief aid, especially to some 4.7 million people affected by strife in Darfur, including 2.7 million displaced.

"If the government does not reconsider its position, with the departure of the NGOs 1.1 million people will be without food, 1.5 million people will be without health care and more than one million without drinking water," OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told journalists.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights indicated that it would examine whether the deprivation of aid in a conflict area might constitute violations of international law or war crimes.

"Certainly we will be looking into that, evidently, but I can't pronounce a position at this point," said Rupert
Colville, a spokesman for the High Commissioner Navi Pillay in response to a question on the issue.

Colville said Sudan's decision to expel the NGOs "could threaten the lives of thousands of people."

Sudan earlier this week ordered the expulsion of the 13 NGOs, accusing them of helping the International Criminal Court issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Beshir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

"To knowingly and deliberately deprive such a huge group of civilians of the means to survive is a deplorable act.

Humanitarian assistance has nothing to do with the ICC proceedings," Colville told journalists.

"To punish civilians because of a decision of the ICC is a grievous dereliction of the government's duty to protect its own people," he added.

OCHA said in a briefing note that it would take steps to overcome the shortages triggered by the departure but the United Nations did "not see how these gaps can be fully covered."

The expulsions also raised the risk of more displacement and a broader impact in Sudan beyond Darfur, according to the UN refugee agency.

"We also have to be concerned at the possible implications this could have more broadly in the region," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Our experience shows that when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance."

At least five of the NGOs asked to leave were helping the UNHCR not only in Darfur, but also in Blue Nile state and Khartoum state.