Sudan's Election to UN Rights Body Seen As African Response to US Policies

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The election of Sudan to the top U.N. human rights body despite its documented history of human rights abuses, including slavery, was likely the result of an African "rebellion" against U.S. policies, according to a regional legal expert.

Speaking in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Amollo Otiende of the International Commission of Jurists said Sudan or any other country involved in rights abuses should not be elected to the U.N. Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR).

Nonetheless, African nations who proposed Sudan for the seat were partly influenced by perceptions that the U.S. was itself violating human rights in Iraq and at the prison camp for terror suspects at Guatanamo Bay in Cuba, he said.

Amollo said the decision to put forward Sudan was also seen as "an indication that African nations are moving towards finding their solutions from within," implying that the governments hoped the move would force Sudan to become more accountable.

A different view came from human rights campaign group Christian Solidarity International (CSI).

CSI representative in Geneva, John Eibner, said in an interview Sudan's election to the UNCHR reduced the institution's credibility.

Eibner said various U.N. reports had identified the government of Sudan as having played a key role in "repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity" in western and southern Sudan.

Adrien-Claude Zoller, president of another non-governmental organization, Geneva for Human Rights, said the commission "has moved away from naming and shaming countries, in favor of providing violators with technical assistance, and that's very negative."

The U.N. Economic and Social Council -- the 54-member body that elects the UNCHR members -- earlier this month approved Sudan's bid to serve a three-year term on the UNCHR.

U.N. rules give regional groups the right to nominate countries to fill seats on U.N. bodies, and the African group presented just four names for four seats -- Sudan, Kenya, Guinea and Togo.

The decision prompted a walkout by U.S. delegates, with U.S. representative Sichan Siv calling the move an "absurdity."

Efforts to contact African Union officials to comment on why the governments had backed Sudan's Muslim Arab government despite its abuse against black Africans were unfruitful.

Since Sudan's civil war started two decades ago, the government in Khartoum, supported by northern Muslims, has used a range of unconventional war strategies to fight the predominantly black African Christians and animists in the south.

According to right campaigners, aid workers, villagers and rebels, these have included the aerial bombardment of civilians targets including hospitals and schools; the abduction of women and children to work as concubines and slaves for Arabs in the north; restrictions on humanitarian aid access; and sponsoring of Arab militias to attack villages.

At least two million people have died and millions more southern Sudanese have been displaced.

In April, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees censured the government for new atrocities in the western region of Darfur, where another war between the government and rebels fighting for political and economic autonomy is going on.

More than 120,000 people who have fled from Darfur into the neighboring nation of Chad are currently facing a humanitarian crisis, according to U.N. officials.

Human Rights Watch last week accused the Sudanese government of "ethnic cleansing" and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

In a report, the group documented how government forces had overseen and directly participated in massacres, carried out summary executions of civilians, torched towns and villages, and forcibly depopulated wide swathes of land.

It called on the U.N. Security Council to strongly condemn the actions and demand that the authorities disarm, disband and withdraw the Arab militias engaging in ethnic cleansing, frequently in conjunction with government forces.

Last month, the annual UNCHR gathering in Geneva refused to pass a U.S.-backed resolution condemning Sudan. During the session, the body adopted five resolutions condemning Israel.

The U.N. has named 2004 "the international year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition."

(CNSNews Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)

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