|A girl sits with others in her Grade 4 class in a UNICEF-supported school in the Krindig camp on the outskirts of El Geneina, capital of West Darfur.|
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 23 January 2006 – African leaders have arrived in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, to participate in the annual summit of the African Union (AU), which opens on 23 January. Focusing on this year’s theme of ‘Education and Culture’, the leaders of more than 50 African nations will also look at the HIV/AIDS pandemic facing the continent, and discuss the current crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region.
“What’s significant about this session is that it’s focusing on education and culture. There’s a very strong emphasis on literacy – and specifically girl’s education – and this is obviously an issue very important for UNICEF and Africa,” explained UNICEF Representative in Sudan Ted Chaiban.
During the summit a special meeting on HIV/AIDS, hosted by First Ladies from Sudan and many other African nations, will also be held. “The First Ladies can act as a catalyst and as a very strong lobby for advocacy on HIV/AIDS,” added Mr. Chaiban.
|© UNICEF Sudan/2006/El Tigani|
|A UNICEF staff member providing training on HIV/AIDS to African Union forces in South Darfur. In 2005 UNICEF trained 650 Civilian Police from the African Union on HIV/AIDS, child protection and sexual and gender-based violence.|
Darfur crisis a key issue at the summit
Another important issue that will arise out of the summit will be the need to generate further attention to the ongoing crisis in Darfur. Working with UNICEF and other international organizations, the African Union has been a major force on the ground to protect the rights of millions of women and children.
“The African Union force has provided through their patrolling and their presence some measure of protection and access that otherwise wouldn’t have [been possible],” remarked Mr. Chaiban.
With the training received from UNICEF, civilian police within the African Union have been better equipped to protect children and women from abuse and sexual violence.
UNICEF believes it’s critical to have a peacekeeping force in Darfur, which – in addition to offering a measure of protection – can also monitor the situation on the ground and report any cease fire or human rights violations.
“Women and children are the primary victims of conflict there, and the African Union presence has had an impact on creating a more secure environment and has allowed us to increase our access,” said Mr. Chaiban. “Whether this will continue to be an AU force or whether it will become a UN force I think whatever force is on the ground requires the means to be able to do what it is expected to do. It’s important that the international community support the force on the ground, so that they have the finances to be able to carry out the mandate that they have been given.”