"Thousands have already started going back on a voluntary basis, [but] lack of resources and infrastructure in the south and the volatile security situation and the absence of solid state structures pose serious threats to the human rights of returnees," said Walter Kنlin, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s representative on the human rights of IDPs.
After meeting government officials and IDPS during his mission from 4-13 October to Khartoum and Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, Kنlin cautioned against encouraging IDPs to go back to their villages too hastily.
"The promotion of premature return may cause serious humanitarian problems despite the peace. In many areas returnees fear for their safety due to militia activities, armed civilians and landmines," observed Kنlin. "Some returnees are illegally taxed and looted during their long journeys back home."
He urged all relevant institutions to respect the liberties of IDPs, including their right to be fully informed and consulted on available relocation options and to freely choose whether they wanted to return, to integrate locally or to resettle elsewhere.
"In particular authorities in Khartoum should reconsider plans to relocate the IDP camps and irregular settlements without offering the IDPs viable alternative accommodation, as they may trigger involuntary returns," said Kنlin.
He noted that following the signing of the peace agreement in January between the Sudanese government and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, many IDPs returned to their original home areas and found that they lacked shelter, sufficient food, clean drinking water and access to medical services and education.
"It is predictable that these problems will increase once larger numbers of internally displaced persons return to the south," he said.
Kنlin reported that many IDPs he met on the outskirts of Khartoum, who are mainly from the south, told him that they felt unwelcome in the north and wanted to return to their home areas as soon as possible.
The envoy urged international donors to release funds already pledged for the reconstruction of southern Sudan and appealed to humanitarian agencies to extend their presence to all parts of the region to better monitor and protect displaced persons and returnees.
He stressed the importance of strengthening law enforcement institutions such as the police and the judiciary and creating mechanisms for settling property and land disputes.
Efforts also should be made to quickly integrate militias into regular armed forces and demobilise other armed elements in the south, Kنlin added.
Kنlin is scheduled to present his full findings and recommendations to the UN Commission on Human Rights in March.