UN not permitted to broadcast in N Sudan even though it is part of mandate given to UNMIS by Security Council
In North Sudan press freedom has improved a lot after the lifting of censorship last year. There are many media and they can be quite critical in their commentaries. However, there is not much independent news gathering. In particular about the war and the atrocities in Darfur information in the Sudanese press has been very limited. Until mid last year this was due to censorship. After the lifting of the censorship the information hardly improved, mainly because the media lack the necessary means of communication. They have been able to publish about the peace talks and to give information about the different political views, but not about the situation on the ground.
The United Nations has not yet been given a license to broadcast in North Sudan. It is part of the mandate given to us by the Security Council, like in other peace keeping missions, but we have not been able to start broadcasting. In the so-called Status of the Forces Agreement, which was reached between the UN and the Government, it has been mentioned explicitly that we would have the right to do so, but the exercise of this right in practice has met all kinds of difficulties.
One of the tasks mandated to us is to give information about the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South. Amongst the people of Sudan, in both the North and the South, knowledge about the peace agreement is still deficient. We also have the duty to picture unity of Sudan as "the attractive option". For both objectives radio can be a good platform. Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement radio could also help to present a true picture of the content of that agreement. It would be no luxury, because there are many interest groups in Sudan sketching a distorted picture about what has been agreed. As a result this agreement is meeting much more resistance than perhaps might be warranted in in the view of some, after a good reading. However, even though the Government and the African Union have said that it is highly necessary to counter the false stories told to the displaced people in the camps with true facts, UN radio has not been given the permission to do so.
It is not a matter of national sovereignty. As I said above, according to the agreement signed by the government itself, we have the right to start radio broadcasting. It is clearly a matter of distrust. In North Sudan the United Nations are being seen by many as not their own international organization, with a charter agreed and signed also by Sudan, acting as a buffer and guarantee against the ambitions of other countries, and with a capacity to neutralize the hidden agenda of those countries. On the contrary, many people in Sudan see the UN as an alien entity, as an instrument in the hands of the big powers, not to be trusted.
That this is a wrong perception we have to prove each and every day again. To prove that the UN can be trusted is a daily challenge. We can provide this proof in the way we exercise our peace keeping tasks, carry out our diplomacy, and behave ourselves on the ground. This challenge keeps us alert. We can also prove this with the help of UN radio: impartial, based on world wide agreed principles and values, with due respect for the culture and the traditions of the Sudanese people, giving them an opportunity to be heard.
Radio Miraya has started to broadcast in this spirit. I hope that policy makers in the North will listen and become convinced that the people in the North deserve the same opportunity to look in the mirror as those in the South.
Photo: U.N special envoy for Sudan Jan Pronk gestures during a news conference in Sudan's capital Khartoum, July 6, 2006, on the escalating violence in the volatile Darfur region. (Mohamed Nureldin/Reuters)