London (CNSNews.com) - Human rights groups involved in Sudan are supporting the United States in its effort to prevent Sudan from being elected to the U.N. Security Council in a General Assembly vote scheduled for later Tuesday.
Citing human rights violations against the animist and Christian south Sudanese, including an alleged campaign of slavery, the organizations argue the Islamist government in Khartoum does not deserve a seat on the 15-member Council.
The General Assembly's 189 member states will vote Tuesday to fill five vacancies for two-year rotating Security Council seats. To be successful, a country has to win the backing of two-thirds of the voting states.
Only one seat will go to an African country, and the Organization of African Unity has endorsed Sudan.
But the U.S., which accuses Sudan of state-sponsored terrorism, has been lobbying members to back an alternative nominee, the small Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius.
Uganda, which neighbors Sudan and has accused Khartoum of cross-border terrorism, openly backed the Mauritius bid, and is lobbying other states. Mauritius has good relations with many southern African countries, and is involved in no major diplomatic disputes.
Sudan is proving to be a far more contentious choice.
More than two million people are believed to have died during a 17-year civil war between the Islamic regime and the south. The U.S. Congress has defined the conflict as a "genocidal war." Some human rights groups have also accused southern rebel militias of abuses.
"A government that systematically commits crimes against humanity against its own people is not a suitable member of the U.N., let alone of the Security Council," said John Eibner of the Swiss-based group, Christian Solidarity International.
Speaking by telephone from Zurich, Eibner - a CSI representative to the U.N. - accused Sudan of enslaving southerners, and said it was "in the process of yet again creating man-made famine as a part of the genocide process that has already taken the lives of two million black Africans."
Eibner noted that Sudan held the post of vice-president of the U.N. human rights commission, another position he said was undeserved.
CSI and other groups accuse the Sudanese government of actively abetting the enslavement of southerners by Muslim gangs. Khartoum has consistently denied the charge.
Using funds raised in the U.S. and elsewhere, CSI has been involved in a controversial program of buying up slaves, in order to set them free. Some campaigners oppose the idea, saying it is fuelling the trade by pouring dollars into the "market."
Eibner confirmed buying slaves' freedom remains a major focus for CSI.
At a press conference in New York last week, a number of human rights groups including Freedom House and the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG) supported the campaign to exclude Sudan from the Council.
Freedom House president Adrian Karatnycky compared the suffering perpetrated by Khartoum with "the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot."
"We hope that the vote of the General Assembly on Tuesday will take heed of this record of brutality and violence."
The AASG has spearheaded a continuing campaign to have American companies and funds divest from a Canadian oil giant Talisman Energy Inc., because it alleges the drilling operations in Sudan are helping fuel the civil war.
The U.S. argues that a country subject to U.N. sanctions for terrorism is not an appropriate candidate for the Security Council.
Sanctions were imposed against Khartoum following a 1995 assassination attempt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, during a visit to Ethiopia. Egypt publicly accused Sudan of responsibility.
But Cairo is now backing Sudan's attempt to win the Council seat, saying there was "an African and an Arab decision in Sudan's favor concerning this issue," in Foreign Minister Amr Moussa's words.
Sudanese ministers have expressed the view that the U.S. opposition will backfire, prompting Arab and Asian countries to support its application even more enthusiastically.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said recently Americans had discussed the issue with "many African governments.
He quoted from article 23 of the U.N. Charter, which says in the election Security Council members "due regard being specially paid in the first instance to the contribution of members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security ..."
"Until Sudan addresses international human rights and counter-terrorism concerns, it is difficult to see how the government of Sudan could be an effective voice for Africa or play an effective role in the Security Council," Boucher said.
American concerns about Sudanese terrorism go beyond the Mubarak assassination bid.
In 1998 the U.S. launched a cruise missile attack on a Khartoum pharmaceutical factory, shortly after the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in near-simultaneous attacks that cost more than 250 lives.
Washington claimed the factory was linked to fugitive Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden, whom it accuses of masterminding the bombings.
The U.S. also said the factory was making poison gas ingredients. Khartoum denied the allegations, as did the owner of the factory, who is suing the U.S. government for damages.
The British government has given no indication of how it intends to vote for the African seat.
"We don't give out any details of our voting intentions or lobbying activities on the Security Council," said Foreign Office spokesman Mark Matthews. "We don't reveal any details of our position. That's a convention we have about Security Council admissions issues."
Matthews confirmed Britain was concerned about allegations of abuses by all the factions in Sudan, and raised those concerns with the parties whenever possible.
Among the other seats up for contention Tuesday, two earmarked for Western European countries are also the subject of a diplomatic tussle. Italy expects to be successful in winning one, but two smaller and less influential countries Ireland and Norway, are fighting hard too.
The remaining two seats are considered safe - Colombia and Singapore have the backing of the Latin American and Asian groups respectively.