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MSF Workers Arrested in Sudan

31 May 2005

Paul Foreman, the Dutch head of the charity Medicins Sans Frontieres in Sudan was arrested and released on bail yesterday for "crimes against the Sudanese state", and the BBC today reports that a second aid worker has been arrested. This is in response to a report on rape in the Darfur region of the country released by MSF in March 2005. "The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur" is based on the treatment of 500 women over 4 and a half months. Sudan's attorney general Mohamed Farid told reporters that authorities had opened a criminal case following MSF's failure to hand over evidence on which the report was based; the charity says the information is confidential.

The aid agency is backed by the UN, whose representative in Sudan, Jan Pronk said "[it is] a non-political document only based on humanitarian concern of MSF which has done an excellent job of helping victims of rape." The Sudan Tribune has published a press release from MSF in reaction to the arrests, together with other news and views on Darfur and the fragile peace process. The Genocide Intervention Fund also lists some useful news and links for more information on the region.

The news from Sudan highlights a wider issue of the increased politicisation of aid agencies and relief workers in situations of war and civil unrest. The kidnapping of aid workers in Iraq and elsewhere has exposed their increasing physical vulnerability, and loss of political immunity.

Last week, it was reported that the Dutch Government is suing MSF over the payment of a ransom for Arjan Erkel, kidnapped and held for nearly 2 years in the Russian province of Dagestan. It is the first time a government has sued an aid agency. In other news, the BBC reports on events in Libya, where the supreme court is ruling in an appeal against the death penalty by 6 foreign medics convicted of infecting over 400 children with HIV. Foreign leaders have called for the medics' release, amidst allegations of false confessions and torture, whilst Libyan officials have indicated that the death penalties may be dropped in return for compensation for the families from Bulgaria or the EU.

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