Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, on the Tsunami Disaster and International Relief Efforts

    Over the last two weeks the countries of South Asia, namely Indonesia, Thailand Sri Lanka and India, have experienced the impact and effect of the underwater earthquake, and the subsequent tsunami waves, which hit the region on the morning of the 26th December 2004 near Banda Aceh, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The entire world was shocked by the massive death toll, material loss, and damage to the infrastructure and the environment. Indeed this unprecedented natural calamity has left a legacy of human grief and suffering, touching families and communities across the globe.

    The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights regrets the loss of human life, the environmental damage, the destruction to the physical infrastructure, the psychological and socio-economic impact suffered by the survivors and families, and communities, and the burden of reconstruction on the governments in the region. The Commission takes note of the long-term environmental degradation left behind by the tsunami, as a natural disaster of unimaginable scale, not seen by the world for a long time. H.E Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General visiting the region last week, graphically remarked that, “I have never seen such utter destruction mile after mile.”

    On behalf of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and on my own behalf, I take this opportunity, to express the Commission’s condolences and deep sympathy to the bereaved families, the survivors, the peoples and governments of the states affected by the tsunami disaster. I wish to express further, within the same context and spirit, similar condolences and sympathy, to the families, peoples and governments of the European states, and other states, whose nationals died, or are still missing, having gone to the region on their holidays, at the time the tsunami disaster struck.

    The Commission also wishes to express its condolences and sympathies to the families, peoples, and governments of the three east African states of Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania, situated on the western edge of the Indian Ocean, whose citizens are among the victims of the tsunami waves, a tectonic incident which occurred about 6000 kilometres on the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean. This underscores the fact, in physical, geographical and humanitarian terms that, the world is one global village in which human and natural calamities are increasingly affecting the world uniformly, regardless of national boundaries or the scene of the disaster.

    The tsunami disaster has once again reminded us about the trans-boundary effects of natural disasters, and underlined the relevance of international cooperation in addressing such disasters. The Commission takes note of, and commends the incredible and prompt international response by private citizens, non governmental organizations, governments, the United Nations, and various intergovernmental aid agencies, in coming out quickly with donations and relief assistance to the communities affected by the tsunami disaster. Relief teams of highly specialized workers, equipped with relief material and hardware to assist in the relief effort, have somehow ameliorated the huge loss and suffering faced by the families, and communities which bore the brunt of the disaster.

    I wish to put on record, on behalf of the African Commission, the Commission’s appreciation for the rapid response of the international community, in providing prompt humanitarian assistance to the people of the affected countries, which include search and rescue missions and the provision of timely relief assistance. The Commission wishes to commend and recognize the leadership of the United Nations Secretary General, H.E Kofi Annan, The UN Under-Secretary General for the Coordination on Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, for their timely appeal and the organization of the international assistance, and their moral support to the victims of the disaster. The financial, human and relief assistance, and efforts by the governments of the United States of America, Japan, The Federal Republic of Germany, The European Union, the G7, the World Bank, other donor agencies as well as NGOs, and the readiness by the Indonesian, Sri Lanka, Indian and Thai governments to promptly organize an international conference to address the humanitarian and reconstruction process, will assist the survivors and the peoples of the affected countries to come to terms with the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, as they begin the long reconstruction of their lives, communities and infrastructure.

    The Commission particularly takes note of the UNICEF appeal intended to deal with the problems affecting child victims of the tsunami. We wish to lend our support to the appeal, mindful of the fact that children are the most vulnerable people in such situations. Many children have been orphaned, and have suffered physical and psychological injuries. They require a lot of assistance.

    Let me take this opportunity to draw the special attention of the international community to the Somali tsunami victims, which is one of the three East African states which suffered the tsunami effect. About 200 died and 54,000 other people are reportedly homeless in Somalia, thus suffering internal displacement, without the minimum conditions of official support because of the absence of a government, and lack of international recognition. . Unlike Tanzania and Kenya, which suffered 10 and 1 deaths respectively, Somalia with a higher casualty figure is a state in crisis.

    Somalia has gone through conflict for the past 13 years. For the entire period it has not had a central government responsible for its territory. International humanitarian agencies and NGOs, which had for sometime been in Somalia, left the country following the killing of humanitarian aid workers as a result of the insecurity which prevailed in Somalia following the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in the early 1990s.

    Recent efforts by the Somali people, through the support of the African Union (AU), The Inter Governmental Authority for Development and Drought (IGAD), and the hospitality of the people and government of Kenya, made possible the conclusion of a Peace Agreement by the different Somali clans, political leaders and warlords, which led to the formation of a national Parliament. Presidential elections were held towards the end of 2004, a Prime Minister was appointed and recently reconfirmed, and a government, which has yet to be installed in the Somali capital, Mogadisho, operates from Nairobi, Kenya. Under such circumstances, assistance to the tsunami victims in Somalia will continue to pose grave difficulties, hence the need for this appeal, in order to ensure that the basic human rights of the displaced in Somali are guaranteed within the prevailing conditions, until such time that the Somali government, can fully exercise its authority on the entire Somali territory.

    On behalf of the Commission, and on my own behalf, I wish to urge the African Union, all African governments, and all African peoples, and civil society to mobilize their efforts to assist the Somali victims of the tsunami. The African Commission hopes that the international community’s response to the Somali tsunami victims will be proportionate to the disaster, and the humanitarian relief effort will match a similar commitment to the humanitarian need of the victims.

    I therefore call upon the international community to spare time, resources and efforts to address the Somali tsunami situation, as they continue to address the much greater aftermath of the tsunami in South Asia.

    Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to encourage the Somali government, in its efforts to restore peace and stability in Somalia, as they also deal with the aftermath of the tsunami disaster. I would like to express the hope that in the process of dealing with the tsunami rehabilitation effort, all Somali citizens will be inspired to find a lasting peace to their country, by extending full support to their government, which will form the basis for good governance, thus guaranteeing the enjoyment of human rights by every Somali citizen in Somalia.

    (Signed)
    Bahame Tom Mukirya Nyanduga,
    Commissioner, Special Rapporteur on Refugees and IDPs in Africa/ACHPR,
    10 January 2005.

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      Date: 10 January 2005

      States: Gambia

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