Saturday, May 08, 2004

Naturally, Sudan has just been given a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.

Financial Times
May 5, 2004

HEADLINE: Outrage over Sudan's human rights role at UN




Sudan yesterday won a seat on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, outraging human rights groups, exasperating UN officials and prompting the US to walk out in protest.

Sichan Siv, the US ambassador to the economic and social council, was "perplexed and dismayed" by the decision to put forward "a country that massacres its own African citizens", and said: "The US will not participate in this absurdity."

The annual spectacle of the world's worst human rights offenders being elected to the commission has become a source of deep embarrassment for the UN and a rallying cry for its critics. The membership of Zimbabwe and Cuba this year caused similar outrage, while Libya's chairmanship of the commission last year became a must-mention in any anti-UN tirade.

Sudan's uncontested election, backed by the African regional group, comes as UN officials say a catastrophe is unfolding in its Darfur region.

Jan Egeland, the UN's humanitarian chief, recently described "an organised campaign of forced depopulation of entire areas", in which "entire villages are looted, burned down and sometimes bombed. Large numbers of civilians have been killed and scores of women and children have been abducted, raped and tortured," he said.

"Scorched-earth tactics are being employed throughout Darfur. I consider this to be ethnic cleansing."

Mr Siv said yesterday that "Sudan's membership on the commission threatens to undermine not only its work, but its very credibility".

Sudan's envoy retorted that the US was "utterly blinded by cultural arrogance and sensational hegemony", and accused it of "turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by American forces" in Iraq.

But human rights groups, for once in concert with the American right, also condemned Sudan's election.

Joanna Weschler, from Human Rights Watch, said the problem lay with the UN's system of granting regional groups a set number of seats, with no minimum criteria.