The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has expressed concern at reports of harassment of aid workers in Sudan's western Darfur region and has criticised the Khartoum government for "failing to provide humanitarian agencies with the support it has agreed upon" - writes Peter Kenny for Ecumenical News International.
The declaration of the LWF Office for International Affairs and Human Rights was submitted on 13 December 2006 to the United Nations Human Rights Council during a two-day emergency session convened on Darfur, a hearing that was welcomed by the Lutheran group.
On the same day. the UN council agreed to send a high-level mission to Darfur to probe claims of worsening abuses against civilians in the territory the size of France in Africa's biggest country.
The declaration by the LWF, representing 66 million Lutheran worldwide, accused Sudan of "failing to provide access to the areas where people are in need".
It emphasised the importance that "all humanitarian agencies" have access to those in need. Member churches of the Lutheran body, especially in Nordic countries, are heavy backers of a number of emergency aid programmes in Darfur.
The declaration said that "humanitarian organizations should be enabled and assisted to have free access and freedom of movement".
It stated, "We are, moreover, deeply concerned by reports of obstruction and harassment of humanitarian workers and agencies, preventing them from providing relief and humanitarian assistance and operating effectively in Darfur."
Some UN bodies have called the Darfur conflict the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 200 000 people having been killed and more than 2.5 million driven from their homes in the three-year fight between the mainly Arab government and black African rebels.
Separately, the Human Rights Watch advocacy group has urged European Union leaders to support tough new action against top Sudanese leaders for their failure to end abuses in Darfur. The New York-based advocacy group made its pitch in advance of the European Union summit on 14-15 December 2006 in Brussels.
At the same time, two church-backed international aid agencies, Action by Churches Together International (ACT) and Caritas Internationalis (CI), launched a joint appeal for emergency funds.
ACT, with the backing of mainly Protestant and Orthodox churches and CI, a Roman Catholic aid and development agency, are working together in Darfur.
They said in a statement on 14 December 2006 that they would continue their joint response to the Darfur crisis and issued an appeal for almost 13 million US dollars to deal with the crisis in the Sudanese territory.
But on 9 December, Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store had protested against the expulsion of the Norwegian Refugee Council, the non-governmental coordinator of the largest camp for internally displaced people from South Darfur. The NRC was officially expelled from South Darfur on 16 November.
This came after the Sudanese authorities had suspended the organisation from humanitarian relief operations in Darfur in September without any formal explanation. Together with other countries and the UN, Norway has sought to get Sudan to reverse its decision.
"More than half of the population of Darfur is dependent on emergency relief, and the expulsion of the NRC ... It is unacceptable that the Sudanese authorities continue to obstruct humanitarian workers in their efforts to help those in need," Store said.
Then, on 12 December the UN Mission in Sudan flew 134 humanitarian staff out of El Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur, following several days of clashes in the city.
The mission said clashes between rebel groups and government forces and allied militias, as well as the increased presence of Janjaweed militia and other armed movements, had destabilised the situation.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]