Saturday, March 17, 2007

China and Russia Seek to Block Report on Darfur

March 16, 2007 (GENEVA) — China and Russia joined Arab and Muslim states on Friday in urging the U.N.’s human rights watchdog to ignore a report from a mission to Darfur that blamed Sudan for continuing war crimes against civilians there.

The two permanent United Nations Security Council members argued the mission, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, last month failed to gain access to the vast western region of Sudan and had not fulfilled its mandate.

Despite warnings from Western and some African states that failure to act would undermine the credibility of the newly formed Human Rights Council, Muslim and Arab states and their allies backed Sudan’s line that the report had no legal basis.

"The so-called mission failed to make an onsite visit. The report cannot be considered objective ... and has no legal basis," China said in a statement to the 47-state Council, which was echoed by Russia.

The mission’s report said the government of Sudan had orchestrated and taken part in war crimes. It appealed for the Council to take "urgent further action," to protect civilians.

Some African states, which are manning a 7,000-strong peacekeeping force in Darfur but are split over how to respond to the human rights crisis there, spoke out strongly about the need to accept the report and act on it.

Denial of access was not grounds for dismissing it, Zambia said, noting South Africa under apartheid and the then Rhodesia, also under white rule, routinely refused entry to such missions.

Deserve Better

"The people of Darfur deserve better," said Zambia’s ambassador Love Mtesa.

After initially agreeing to the mission, the government of Sudan refused visas to the five-person team because it said one of its members had previously spoken of genocide in Darfur and could not be objective.

The U.N. investigators, asked by the Council in December to examine reports of abuse in Darfur, were forced to conduct their work from neighbouring Chad and in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, headquarters of the African Union.

Observers estimate 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million driven from their homes since a revolt broke out fours ago. The government responded to the uprising by arming militias which have been accused of atrocities.

The Sudanese government denies responsibility for abuses and blames rebel groups that have refused to sign a 2006 peace deal.

The report, the latest international probe to point the finger at Khartoum over the violence in Darfur, also accused rebels of crimes against civilians.

"This report has no legal standing. This faulty report should not be discussed," Sudan’s Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Elmardi told the Council.

Williams told the Council it was its credibility that was on the line — not that of the mission — if it failed to act on her team’s recommendations.

"Innocent civilians continue to suffer and die. They do not need more reports. They are pleading for protection," she said.

"Our job is to attempt to try to alleviate the suffering of the people of Darfur who are being raped, pillaged and burned while political wrangling goes on here in the hallowed halls of the United Nations," she said, to applause.

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