U.N. report cites rights abuses in Darfur

Mission backs war crimes charges against leaders of the Sudanese government and its allied militias

March 13, 2007|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- A high-level U.N. mission to Darfur said yesterday that the Sudanese government had orchestrated human rights crimes against its own people and urged that leaders of Sudan's government and militias be charged with war crimes.

But Khartoum is blocking United Nations attempts to stem the violence, organizing opposition to the mission's report and stepping back from its agreement to accept a joint U.N.-African peacekeeping force in the region.

Sudan's government "has manifestly failed to protect the population of Darfur from large-scale international crimes, and has itself orchestrated and participated in these crimes," according to a report commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

It said rebels "are also guilty of serious abuses of human rights" in the fighting against government forces and their allied militias. In four years of conflict, more than 200,000 villagers have died and more than 2.5 million have fled their homes, according to the United Nations.

The Human Rights Council will consider adopting the report Friday, but Sudan's allies are trying to thwart it, rights advocates said.

Khartoum had blocked the team that wrote the report, led by 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, from visiting the war-torn region, so the mission had to rely on interviews with refugees across the border in Chad.

The report recommends that officials from Sudan's government and allied militias be tried for war crimes. The International Criminal Court has named a militia leader and a state minister as war crimes suspects for organizing attacks on civilians.

Darfur is one of the top issues being discussed at the fledgling Human Rights Council, which is still trying to establish its credibility after previous sessions focused mainly on Israel and ignored more serious rights abusers.

The council replaced the largely discredited Human Rights Commission, which had been taken over by "arsonists rather than firefighters," said Mark Lagon, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations. The United States sat out the first two-year session and announced last week that it would not seek a seat for the next term either, opting to promote human rights from outside the council.

But the new group, now in its fourth session, is still struggling to confront violators, rights advocates say. Sudan is rallying allies to defend it from censure.

"It is still unclear whether the council can take action to further the recommendations of the human rights mission," said Peggy Hicks, the global advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, who is in Geneva for the council's three-week session.

"There is debate about the conclusions, because the mission wasn't able to reach Darfur. But this report simply confirms what is well known and documented by other missions and investigations into what is happening in Darfur - some of the most serious human abuses in the world."

The report comes days after Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir rejected a plan under which the United Nations was to share control of a new peacekeeping force with the African Union, dashing hopes that troops would arrive soon.

In a letter delivered Thursday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Bashir insisted that the African Union keep full command of a planned joint force of 22,000 to augment the 7,000 AU peacekeepers now in Darfur. U.N. regulations say the world body must control peacekeeping operations that it funds.

Emyr Jones Parry, the British ambassador to the United Nations, said Bashir's letter was an attempt to renegotiate a hard-won agreement to deploy the U.N. troops and foreshadowed months more of delay. "It's a major setback," he said yesterday.

U.S. and European Security Council diplomats have said it is time to impose sanctions on Sudan and its leaders for allowing the violence to continue. But veto-holding members China and Russia have resisted sanctions.

Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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