Plight of Sudanese people ‘right at the top of our agenda,’ UK’s permanent representative to the UN tells Arab News

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Updated 24 September 2023
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Plight of Sudanese people ‘right at the top of our agenda,’ UK’s permanent representative to the UN tells Arab News

Plight of Sudanese people ‘right at the top of our agenda,’ UK’s permanent representative to the UN tells Arab News
  • Barbara Woodward describes difficulties of delivering aid as a major impediment to addressing humanitarian crisis
  • As 78th UNGA session get under way, she urges Sudan’s rival leaders to to stop fighting and restore civilian rule

NEW YORK CITY: The humanitarian situation in Sudan continues to deteriorate rapidly as the conflict that erupted on April 15 shows no sign of abating.

The power struggle has recently been claiming the lives of civilians in ever greater numbers, while challenges of access are making it increasingly difficult for aid workers to reach the millions of Sudanese in need.

In May, despite signing a pledge in Jeddah, in which the two feuding generals agreed to allow the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance, the restoration of essential services, and the withdrawal of forces from hospitals and clinics, Sudan continues to be a highly insecure operational space for aid workers.

Since the beginning of the hostilities, 19 humanitarian-agency staff have been killed.




Humanitarian organization leaders said Sudan, is ‘no longer at the precipice of mass atrocities; it has fallen over the edge.’ (AFP)

Bureaucratic barriers, such as customs, visas, and permits, continue to hinder the ability to deploy humanitarian teams into the country and onward to parts where needs are most acute. More than 220 international aid workers were awaiting visas to enter the country in July, with applications pending for weeks on end.

Barbara Woodward is the UK’s permanent representative to the UN and the penholder of the Sudan file at the Security Council. The penholders’ role is to lead the negotiations and drafting of resolution on a particular issue.

In an interview with Arab News in New York City, Woodward said: “The plight of the people of Sudan, 25 million of them in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, is really right at the top of our agenda.”

She noted that the task of gaining humanitarian access to Sudan was the worst in the world, and that obstacles to delivering aid constituted one of the major impediments to addressing Sudan’s humanitarian crisis.

“We can’t get that humanitarian aid to people because convoys are being attacked, and bureaucratic obstacles are being pushed in the way, such as customs, visas, and permits,” she added.

Woodward pointed out that despite enormous efforts, the warring parties had not fulfilled their commitments to facilitate humanitarian access, leaving the international community deeply concerned about the fate of Sudan’s population.

And she highlighted the gravity of the situation, expressing concern for the people in Sudan, those who had fled, and the continuous reports on atrocities.

She said the UK was working to address the crisis through financial aid and diplomatic actions, adding that the UN Security Council meetings the British had called were only one part of a comprehensive strategy.




Regional leaders agreed to establish a ministerial mechanism to coordinate efforts to resolve the conflict. (AFP)

Woodward said: “About 25 million people are in need of aid. Nearly 5 million people are displaced, including some who were already displaced, and about 42 percent of the population need food aid.

“There’s the second group of people, about 1 million people, who have fled Sudan into Chad and into South Sudan primarily. They are of course in need of attention.

“That’s why we’ve split the UK aid package of $33.5 million, with a portion for Sudan, about $27.2 million, and then $6.3 million especially directed to South Sudan and Chad, including for reports we have had on grievous body violence.

“And then, this is not just a pure humanitarian mission. The reports we’ve heard of atrocities — of breaching international humanitarian law, violence, ethnic violence, sexual violence — are creating another layer of humanitarian problems. Those are all made worse because, as I said, we can’t get in humanitarian aid,” she added.

Sudan’s Darfur region had been scarred by a two-decade conflict that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and more than 2 million displaced.

Two months into the current war, Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian chief, painted a dire picture of the Darfur states, particularly South Darfur, describing “babies dying in hospitals where they were being treated, children and mothers suffering from severe malnutrition, camps for displaced persons burned to the ground, girls raped, schools closed, and families eating leaves to survive.”

He said: “Hospitals and water facilities have come under attack. Humanitarian warehouses and offices have been ransacked. Aid workers have been killed.”

Griffiths noted that reports of mass killings in the restive province “should spur the world into action,” adding that “the world cannot allow this to happen. Not again.”

SUDAN CONFLICT FACTS

• 5m Civilians displaced by the conflict so far.

• 20m+ People experiencing acute food insecurity.

• 6m+ People just one step away from famine.

• 3.2m+ People who have received some form of assistance.

On what action the world should take, Woodward said that bilateral action was imperative, adding that the UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had personally engaged with military leaders.

She pointed out that the UK’s second approach had been to focus on active participation in local and regional peace initiatives, such as those involving the Quad (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, and the US) and the African Union core group on the Sudan crisis, of which the UK was a member.

“And then, of course, there’s what we can do here at the UN. As the penholder, the UK has been responsible for calling seven Security Council meetings in the last five months to try and draw attention to the situation in Sudan and try to press hard for the parties to end the fighting so we can get aid to the people of Sudan and try and get Sudan to end the fighting and move back to civilian rule,” Woodward said.

The leaders of more than 50 international human rights and humanitarian organizations recently agreed that Sudan was “no longer at the precipice of mass atrocities; it has fallen over the edge,” and warned of inaction in the face of the disaster unfolding “before our eyes.”

Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: “In the face of mounting atrocities in Sudan, the Security Council has neglected its responsibility to robustly respond.

“The world’s foremost body on international peace and security should not remain silent in the face of grave international crimes.”

Addressing concerns about the Security Council's response to the Sudanese crisis, especially in comparison with the Ukraine conflict, Woodward drew a distinction, saying that the Ukraine war was initiated by a permanent member of the Security Council.

She noted that the situation in Ukraine had a different dynamic, citing Russia’s role in calling what she called spurious meetings related to Ukraine and its use of the veto.




The power struggle in Sudan has recently been claiming the lives of civilians in ever greater numbers. (AFP)

According to Woodward, while there have been numerous meetings on Ukraine, it “should not detract from the fact that we are very, very cognizant of the appalling plight and the circumstances that the people of Sudan face at the moment and the fragility of the situation there.”

There has been no dearth of regional and international efforts to resolve the Sudan crisis. Many meetings have been convened separately by the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and the Arab League.

The IGAD also established the Quartet group of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan, which during a meeting in July resolved “to request the East Africa Standby Force summit to convene in order to consider the possible deployment of the EASF for the protection of civilians and to guarantee humanitarian access.”

In May, in Jeddah, the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces signed the Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan — the Jeddah Declaration — in recognition of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law and international human rights law. A few days later, they inked agreement on a seven-day ceasefire, one of many that did not hold.

Then, at the end of May, the Saudi US-facilitated talks were suspended after the SAF withdrew, accusing the RSF of failing to implement the ceasefire.

The talks reportedly resumed on July 15, before the SAF again announced the return of its delegation from Jeddah owing to a lack of agreement on several issues, including their position that the RSF should evacuate civilian homes and public facilities in Khartoum.

In July, Egypt hosted the Sudan’s Neighboring States Summit, bringing together the heads of state and governments of the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, and South Sudan, with the aim of finding a solution. The leaders agreed to establish a ministerial mechanism comprising foreign ministers of Sudan’s neighboring states to coordinate their efforts to resolve the conflict.




“My message for the Sudanese people would be that we are desperately trying to get you the humanitarian aid that you so urgently need,” said Barbara Woodward. (AFP)

The AU has many a time stated that such multiplicity of approaches does not serve the will of the Sudanese people. The AU peace road map calls for the establishment of a coordinated mechanism to ensure all regional and global efforts are harmonized and impactful.

Woodward said: “The problem we have, I think, is not so much the proliferation of initiatives, which shows just how willing people are to support the cause of the peace in Sudan. It’s the fact that the two parties will not stop fighting.

“A unified initiative should of course lead to an end of the fighting and the establishment of some sort of civilian rule. Those are the two key elements.”

She pointed out that the Jeddah agreement was a promising initiative that aimed to facilitate humanitarian access. Although both parties had fallen short of their commitments, she expressed hope that the initiative would gain traction again.

Woodward said the international community was working tirelessly to deliver aid and monitor violations of international law, while remaining committed to ending the fighting and restoring civilian rule.

“My message for the Sudanese people would be that we are desperately trying to get you the humanitarian aid that you so urgently need.

“We are doing our best to monitor the violence and the violations of international humanitarian law, so that we can call the parties to account, and we want to see the end of fighting and we want to help the restoration of civilian rule back in Sudan,” she added.

Her message to the Sudanese military leaders was unequivocal: “Stop fighting.”


Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
Updated 3 sec ago
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Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
JERUSALEM: Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.
Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes. The site is also revered by Jews as vestige of their two ancient temples. Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel’s 18 percent Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.
That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas’ cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed “Al Aqsa Flood,” which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.
But Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.
“The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet,” government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.
He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.
A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a “capitulation to terror,” and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
Updated 8 min 56 sec ago
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Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
  • Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them

MOSUL, Iraq: A Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq on Thursday killed two fighters from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Iraqi security sources said.
Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them, two security sources told Reuters.
There has been a long-running Turkish campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants of the PKK, YBS and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which are all regarded as terrorist groups by Ankara.


Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
Updated 29 February 2024
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Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called voting a religious duty
  • Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda
DUBAI: Iran holds a parliamentary election on Friday seen as a test of the clerical establishment’s popularity at a time of growing dissent over an array of political, social and economic crises.
The vote will be the first formal gauge of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Critics from inside and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, say the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system could be at stake due to economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called voting a religious duty. He accused the country’s “enemies” — a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel — of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
The commander of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Wednesday that “each vote is like a missile launched at the enemy’s heart.”
But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran’s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement and corruption.
While establishment supporters will likely vote for hard-line candidates, widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may keep many Iranians at home.
Prices for basic goods like bread, meat, dairy and rice have skyrocketed in past months. The official inflation rate stands at about 40 percent. Analysts and insiders put it at over 50 percent.
The US 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.
Reformists shun ‘meaningless’ vote
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize the Islamic Republic.
With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of Friday’s race and reformists calling it an “unfree and unfair election,” the vote will pit hard-liners and low-key conservatives against each other, all proclaiming loyalty to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, with a vetting body called the Guardian Council approving 75 percent of initially registered hopefuls.
The unelected Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six legal experts generally within Khamenei’s orbit, has the authority to scrutinize laws and election candidates.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
On the same day, Iranians also vote for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader. The 88-member clerical body rarely intervenes directly in policy but is expected to help choose the 84-year-old Khamenei’s successor.
Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda. These are determined by Khamenei who holds the utmost authority in the country’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
Polling has projected turnover of about 41 percent, while former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said on Monday that surveys showed the participation could be as low as 27 percent, significantly lower than 42 percent in a 2020 parliamentary vote.
Discredited after years of failed attempts at widening political and social freedoms, the pro-reform opposition suffered further unpopularity in 2022 when protesters scorned its mantra of gradual change.
The Reform Front coalition has said it will not take part in the “meaningless” election but has not boycotted the vote.

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
Updated 34 min 6 sec ago
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Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
  • Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria

Beirut: Israel killed a Hezbollah fighter in a strike on Syria, close to the Lebanese border, also hitting near Damascus Thursday, a war monitor said, hours after similar attacks.
Hezbollah holds sway over Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria, as well as some regions on the other side of the border including Qusayr, the target of Thursday’s strike.
“An Israeli drone strike on a truck killed a Hezbollah fighter in the Qusayr area near the Syrian-Lebanese border,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At the same time, Israeli strikes targeted Syrian air defense and radar sites near Damascus, said the Britain-based monitor with a network of sources inside Syria.
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard faraway explosions.
Syrian state media did not report the strikes.
Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces following the eruption of civil war.
Since Syria’s war began in 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes against its northern neighbor, primarily targeting pro-Iran forces, among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army.
But the strikes have multiplied during the almost five-month-old war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
On Wednesday evening, Israel struck near Damascus, killing two Syrian pro-Hezbollah fighters, the Observatory had said.
Last week, an Israeli strike on a truck in Syria near the Lebanese border killed two Hezbollah members, also according to the Observatory.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria.
Syria’s war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
Updated 29 February 2024
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UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
  • UN human rights office had recorded ‘many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces’

GENEVA: UN human rights chief Volker Turk on Thursday said war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, calling for them to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable.
“Clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, including war crimes and possibly other crimes under international law, have been committed by all parties,” Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“It is time — well past time — for peace, investigation and accountability.”
Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages in an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The attack sparked an Israeli offensive in Hamas-run Gaza, which it says is intended to rescue the remaining hostages and eradicate Hamas. Health authorities in Gaza say some 30,000 people have been confirmed killed during the offensive.
Turk, who was presenting a report on the human rights situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said his office had recorded “many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces.”
He said there were also indications that Israeli forces have engaged in “indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting” in violation of international law.
Israel has said it is doing all it can to minimize harm to civilians.
Turk said Palestinian armed groups launching indiscriminate projectiles across southern Israel and the holding of hostages also violated international humanitarian law.
Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.
Turk said the prospect of an Israeli ground assault in the southern border town of Rafah, where some 1.5 million people are estimated to be crammed after fleeing their homes further north to escape Israel’s offensive, “would take the nightmare being inflicted on people in Gaza into a new, dystopian, dimension.”
“For my part, I fail to see how such an operation could be consistent with the binding provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice,” he said.
Turk added that such a ground offensive would incur massive loss of life, increase the risk of atrocity crimes, spur more displacement and “sign a death warrant for any hope of effective humanitarian aid.”