African and Islamic Nations Shield Sudan at UN Rights Meeting

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

(Update: The Human Rights Council on Wednesday passed a compromise resolution that expressed "concern regarding the seriousness of the human rights and humanitarian situation in Darfur" and called for five "highly qualified persons," along with a U.N. expert on human rights in Sudan, to investigate. The resolution did not criticize the Sudanese government.)

( - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the world body's human rights watchdog in Geneva to send a clear message that the "nightmare" in Sudan's Darfur must stop, but for many of the nations considering the crisis, his appeal seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

Envoys for Islamic, African and other developing member states taking part in a Human Rights Council special session on Darfur Tuesday in turn praised Khartoum for its "cooperation," and argued against any action against or condemnation of the Islamist government.

Some also took issue with the fact that Annan had delivered a message by video to the special session, complaining that he had not done so in the case of the three previous special sessions held by the six-month old council, all of which dealt with Israel and ended in condemnations of the Jewish state.

Earlier, Annan criticized the 47-member HRC for being disproportionately focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict while crises elsewhere were not getting the attention they merited. He cited Darfur as a case in point. The U.N. has called Darfur the "world's worst humanitarian disaster."

Special sessions can be called at the request of one-third of the HRC's members. The three earlier sessions dealing with Israel were convened at the request of Arab and Islamic members. Tuesday's special session on Darfur was convened at the initiative of the European Union.

'Western hegemony'

The session was continuing on Wednesday, with members split over a push by E.U. members to send a team of rights experts to Sudan, and developing nations' desire for the council's own members to oversee a probe into the conflict.

In a hard-hitting message to the gathering on Tuesday, Annan, who leaves his post later this month, painted a stark picture of the situation in the western Sudanese region.

"In recent weeks, the fighting has escalated and conditions for the civilian population have got even worse," he said. "Armed militias continue to attack defenseless civilians with impunity, destroying dozens of villages and displacing thousands more in the last few weeks alone.

"Large numbers of women are still being subjected to rape and other forms of violence. Some four million people need humanitarian assistance, including two million internally displaced."

Annan urged the council to "send a clear and united message to warn all concerned, on behalf of the whole world, that the current situation is simply unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue. The people in Darfur cannot afford to wait another day."

He called on the HRC immediately to dispatch a team of independent and universally respected experts to investigate the latest escalation of abuses.

"It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations, including by bringing to account those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed."

But for some of the participating envoys, defending Khartoum appeared to be a priority, according to statements prepared for delivery.

"No government has been more forthcoming than Sudan's in welcoming international community's involvement," declared Pakistani ambassador Masood Khan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) bloc.

Sudan had made strenuous efforts to implement various peace agreements, while "other parties have been dragging their feet," he added, in an apparent reference to Darfur rebel groups.

Cuban envoy Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios spoke of "a persistent campaign of discredit and exaggeration orchestrated against the government of Sudan with the clear aim of encouraging the hegemonic pretensions of the West."

Egypt, a non-HRC member taking part, "commend[ed] the Sudanese government for the cooperation it has extended to international and regional human rights mechanisms," while Malaysia referred to "the positive spirit of cooperation that has been demonstrated by Sudan."

Iranian ambassador Alireza Moaiyeri referred to "a cycle of violence" in Darfur, but then suggested that the situation there was far less serious than that in the Middle East.

"Unlike the previous special sessions, necessitated by gross and systematic violations [by Israel], the fourth session is held while a peace settlement is peacefully concluded [in Darfur]," said Moaiyeri, whose country is also not currently an HRC member.

'Unnecessary condemnation'

In contrast to their stances in the earlier special sessions - when Israel repeatedly was berated for its military actions in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip - several envoys called for a measured approach towards Sudan.

"The complex situation in Darfur can never be solved with external impositions from New York or Geneva," said Cuba's Palacios. "The solution to the situation in Darfur requires ... doing away with inflammatory language and pretensions of imposing sanctions and unnecessary condemnation."

(During an earlier HRC special session, on Nov. 15, Cuba's representative expressed "profound sorrow and outrage" about the situation in Gaza, accused Israel of "flagrantly, massively and systematically" violating human rights, and said Palestinians were the victims of "a true genocide, deliberately planned and carried out as a state policy.")

Algerian envoy Idriss Jazairy, speaking on behalf of the Africa group, said Tuesday the HRC should avoid "a wrong-footed or heavy-handed response" towards Sudan, while North Korea's representative urged "objectivity and impartiality."

"The Human Rights Council is a new body," said Khan of Pakistan. "It should build bridges not create new fissures. The council should not become a battleground for pushing narrow, parochial or neo-provincial agendas.

"This session's resolution/decision should not be one-sided," he continued. "It must fully reflect and respect the views of the Sudanese government, which is cooperating with the human rights machinery."

(During the HRC's mid-November special session, Khan described Israeli military operations in Gaza as "gross," "systematic," "appalling," "horrendous" and "egregious," and called for a fact-finding mission to go to the region "to investigate the horrors inflicted upon its people.")

Khan was among several envoys Tuesday who expressed dissatisfaction about Annan's direct intervention in the Darfur discussion.

"The secretary-general has chosen to send a message for this session," he observed, then asked: "Were Lebanon and the Gaza Strip less worthy of his attention?"

"We look forward that the secretary-general of the U.N. may display an equal level of commitment towards the promotion and protection of human rights wherever they are threatened," said Egypt's ambassador, while a Palestinian observer also referred to Annan's televised message on Darfur, noting that he had not made similar interventions during the earlier, Israel-related special sessions.

Sudanese ambassador Farah Mustafa accused Western media of spreading lies about Darfur, and called the European countries which initiated calls for the session "the protagonists of confrontation."

In his comments to the meeting, American envoy Warren Tichenor said the U.S. was "appalled by the violence in Darfur."

"We demand that the government of Sudan cease employment of the janjaweed [militia] against the innocent civilians of Darfur."

Tichenor said an "effective and robust" peacekeeping mission must deploy to the conflict zone immediately.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow