It takes more courage to talk than to fight, and it is encouraging to see that President Omar Hassan al Bashir and the First Vice-President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, have begun to do exactly that. Nils Kastberg is the UNICEF Representative in Sudan.
In the past weeks, during developments in Abyei, Kadugli and in other parts of South Kordofan, as well as in Darfur (and now, in southern Blue Nile state) we have seen a total lack of respect for international humanitarian principles on the part of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), and other armed groups in the areas where they operate.
This is the moment for President Bashir and Vice-President Kiir to send a clear and unequivocal message – one that reaches all the way down to each and every soldier in the field — that the denial of humanitarian access constitutes a grave violation of human rights.
When fighting rather than talking prevails, it is mothers and children who pay the heaviest price. Denying those who want to bring them lifesaving care and services the ability to do so contravenes the sense of humanity in all of us.
In the different areas of conflict, there is an urgent cry for humanity to prevail, so that children can wake to the sound of running water rather than that of bombardment, and that they sleep peacefully, with food in their stomachs, instead of cowering beneath bullets fired by AK 47s.
We cannot remain silent in front of what is happening. On behalf of all Sudanese women and children in the affected areas, there must be complete freedom of movement and unhindered humanitarian access for all those who want to reach them in an impartial manner.
UNICEF and its partners have the resources and personnel on the ground to provide rapid relief to the tens of thousands of people who have been displaced by the fighting. All that is needed is that the military forces currently blocking their path allow them to do so.
As the President and First Vice-President commit themselves to dialogue, they have a responsibility to act to ensure that all impediments that constitute denials of humanitarian access are lifted, and that these instructions reach all the forces under their command. That would be a sign of true courage in leadership.