U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that Sudan's expulsion of 13 major aid organizations will cause "irrevocable damage" to humanitarian operations in Darfur and called on the government to urgently reconsider its decision.
Ban said the operations of the agencies "are key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7 million Sudanese people who receive aid in Darfur," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters Thursday.
The U.N. human rights office says it will examine whether Sudan's decision to expel aid groups constitutes a breach of basic human rights and possibly a war crime.
Spokesman Rupert Colville says the Sudanese decision to expel relief workers from 13 of the largest aid groups constitutes a "grievous dereliction'' putting the lives of thousands at risk.
Following the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, U.N. officials saidordered the expulsion of 10 of the largest non-governmental organizations operating in Darfur on Wednesday and three more on Thursday.
Sudan's government has accused the groups such as CARE and Save the Children of cooperating with the court and giving false testimony. The groups deny the accusations.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled consultations on Sudan for Friday afternoon and council diplomats said U.N. humanitarian officials would brief members on the situation in Darfur following the expulsion orders.
Catherine Bragg, the U.N.'s deputy emergency relief coordinator, told a new conference that the 13 organizations are responsible for "at least half" of the humanitarian operations in Darfur and are vital partners for U.N. agencies in delivering food, providing health care, water, education and other services.
"With the loss of these NGOs, 1.1 million people will be without food aid, 1.1 million will be without health care, and over 1 million will be without potable water," she said.
"While we're looking into contingency planning to fill the gaps left by these expulsions, it will be extremely challenging for the remaining humanitarian organizations and the government of Sudan to fill the operating gap as we do not see how these gaps can be fully covered," Bragg said.
In the coming weeks and months, she warned, "the spread of infectious disease would be a particular hazard" with over 1 million people without health care.
The U.N. identified the 10 NGOs expelled on Wednesday as Oxfam GB, CARE International, Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland, Mercy Corps, Save the Children Fund-UK, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee, Action Contre La Faim, Solidarites, and CHF International. The three ordered out on Thursday were MSF-France, Save the Children Fund-US, and PADCO.
Bragg said the expulsion order removes 40 percent of the aid workers in Darfur, roughly 6,500 national and international staff.
"The decision by the Government of Sudan to expel 13 non-governmental organizations involved in aid operations in Darfur will, if implemented, cause irrevocable damage to humanitarian operations there," Montas said, speaking for Ban.
"The secretary-general stresses that these organizations provide humanitarian assistance to those who need it in a neutral and impartial manner," she said. "As such, he appeals to the government of Sudan to urgently reconsider the above decision."
Julia Fromholz, acting director of Human Rights First's Crimes against Humanity program, said al-Bashir, "in trying to try to scare off those who dare to hold him accountable for the war crimes he has committed in Darfur ... has continued to show depraved indifference towards those he is obligated to protect."
"This further underscores the basis for the charges against him and strengthening the case for accountability at the highest levels of the Sudanese government," she said in a statement.
Bragg said 76 NGOs had been operating in Darfur along with all major U.N. agencies.
While the U.N. had taken into account the possibility of expulsions following an arrest warrant for al-Bashir in its contingency planning, she said the order for 13 of the largest NGOS to leave immediately "was a bit of a surprise."
The U.N. is consulting NGOs that have been allowed to remain in Darfur about filling the gaps, and is considering the possibility of bringing in new organizations as well as working with the Sudanese government to see how much of the aid operation they can assume, she said.
Bragg said some international staff members working for the NGOs were given only 24 hours to leave and the U.N. was helping to bring them to the capital, Khartoum, to get exit visas.
The U.N. is also "deeply concerned about staff safety and security" following the arrest and detention of up to five NGO staff members for up to four hours, and reports of intimidating and "very aggressive" behavior by representatives of Sudan's Humanitarian Aid Commission when they visited offices of the NGOs being expelled, she said.
"Sudanese officials also requested some agencies to hand over a list of their assets, and in some cases have begun to gather banking details and confiscated office equipment such as computers, communications equipment and vehicles," Bragg said. "In some locations authorities are demanding passports of the staff."
Montas said the secretary-general is "concerned about the safety and security of national and international humanitarian workers in Sudan and their assets."
"The confiscation of equipment, money and other materials is unacceptable and must end immediately," she said.
Bragg said the U.N. is urging the government of Sudan to seriously examine the implications of the expulsions and "to enable vital humanitarian assistance to continue uninterrupted so as to restore confidence to the humanitarian community in Sudan."
The expulsions "are contrary to the assurances that we have received that humanitarian operations would be protected and assistance would continue," she said.
The United Nations is also expecting the Sudanese government to comply with its obligations under the 2006 Organization of Humanitarian and Voluntary Work bill which grants NGOs a right of appeal of 30 days, Bragg said.