Sudan Tries To Block U.N.

Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 11:32 am
By: News On 6

GENEVA (AP) _ Sudan accused a United Nations panel of bias and moved Tuesday to block the U.N. Human Rights Council from considering its report accusing the government of orchestrating attacks against civilians in Darfur.

Sudanese Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi told the 47-nation council that the American head of the mission, Nobel laureate Jody Williams, took ``a preconceived and hostile attitude against Sudan.''

Al-Mardi said Sudan ``strongly and resolutely'' opposes any consideration by the council of the report, which he said should be dismissed because it was written without the team having visited Darfur. The team has said Sudan refused to grant them visas.

``Any attempt to confer legitimacy on this mission will constitute a serious and dangerous precedent in the eyes, not only of the Sudan, but also of many members of this esteemed council,'' al-Mardi said.

The sharply worded report, issued Monday, said the United Nations must move to protect civilians against a Sudanese government-orchestrated campaign in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced by four years of fighting. Williams' panel called for U.N. Security Council intervention, sanctions and criminal prosecution.

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,'' the report said, adding that ``war crimes and crimes against humanity'' were continuing in the region.

Al-Mardi claimed two of the six team members had failed to participate, invalidating the mission.

U.N. officials said Indonesian Ambassador Makarim Wibisono was the only member to withdraw. Gabonese Ambassador Patrice Tonda had to return to Geneva while the group was waiting in vain for Sudanese visas, but he remains a member of the panel, the officials said.

Al-Mardi also complained that the Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, president of the Human Rights Council, failed to adequately consult countries before making appointments to the team.

``The selection came as a result of and in response to unjustified pressures,'' al-Mardi said. ``No consideration was paid to our legitimate and objective reservations and concerns.''

Western countries vehemently opposed the inclusion of ambassadors on the panel _ as demanded by Sudan's allies on the council _ arguing they could not be objective.

But after more than a month of protracted private negotiations on the council, Western countries agreed to the appointment of the two ambassadors in order to ensure that the mission went ahead.

Al-Mardi claimed Williams had given Sudanese authorities less than an hour to issue visas on Feb. 14 before calling off plans to visit Sudan.

Williams, however, wrote a letter last month to de Alba stating that more than a dozen requests for the visas were submitted to Sudanese authorities by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others starting Jan. 26.

``By Feb. 14, after 20 days of these efforts and with little time to carry out our mandated work, it was clear that the government had no intention of issuing the visas,'' Williams said.

Al-Mardi claimed no similar mission had ever prepared a report without visiting the country under scrutiny. In fact, reports routinely have been written for U.N. human rights bodies when countries _ including Iraq, Cuba and North Korea _ have refused to admit the world body's experts.

Al-Mardi claimed the humanitarian situation in Darfur ``is much more stable now there is visible decrease in malnutrition and mortality rates.''

The conflict began when members of the region's ethnic African tribes took up arms against what they saw as decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. In a tactic the U.S. has characterized as genocidal, the government is accused of unleashing a pro-government Arab militia, known as the janjaweed, that has committed many of the worst atrocities in the conflict.

Williams told The Associated Press that ``the overwhelming burden of guilt lies with the government and the militia.''

The team said that, even though it was unable to enter Sudan, it consulted widely with aid agencies working in the region and was briefed by African Union officials in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It also spoke to some members of rebel groups and to Darfur refugees in Chad.