UN criticism of Sudan 'watered down'

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The Independent Online

Sudan escaped condemnation by the United Nations over allegations of ethnic cleansing yesterday after European nations agreed to water down their criticism of the Khartoum government.

Sudan escaped condemnation by the United Nations over allegations of ethnic cleansing yesterday after European nations agreed to water down their criticism of the Khartoum government.

The US delegation was so outraged by the outcome, in the final hour of the annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission, that it demanded an emergency session to hold Sudan to account. "We must stand up and be strong, condemning unconscionable acts," said Richard Williamson, the US ambassador, after the commission voted 50-1, with two abstentions, to express concern about the situation in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

But, after hours of negotiations between European and African states, the statement that was adopted stopped short of a formal condemnation of Sudan. "The commission has failed to meet its responsibilities today," Mr Williamson said, after casting the single vote against the motion.

According to a UN report leaked to The Independent, which was not considered by the commission because of delaying tactics by Khartoum, Sudanese forces have been conducting a scorched earth policy against civilians in what may amount to "crimes against humanity".

More than one million people have been displaced inside Sudan, and another 110,000 have crossed into eastern Chad to avoid the crackdown against farming tribesmen by Arab militias backed by the Muslim central government, the United Nations says.

The UN team based its report on interviews with refugees who have fled to neighbouring Chad after being refused entry by the Khartoum government. In a cynical move condemned by human rights organisations, the Sudanese allowed the team into the country this week. They were unable therefore to report back to the Human Rights Commission before the end of the session yesterday.

Mr Williamson challenged the top UN human rights body to meet again in emergency session once the UN investigators report back. European diplomats expressed unhappiness with the final document but said that it was the only option to win support of African nations. They normally vote as a bloc and had been expected to defend Sudan from being singled out for condemnation. "The Europeans folded. They messed in up in the negotiations with the Sudanese government," said Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch yesterday issued new charges against the Sudanese government, alleging that the pro-government militias executed 136 men in a coordinated operation last month. "The Janjaweed [militias] are no longer simply militias supported by the Sudanese government," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "These militias work in unison with government troops, with total impunity for their massive crimes."

President Omar el-Bashir has denied the militias are backed by his government but his regime has not responded to the latest charges. Sudan had been hoping for an improvement in its relations with Western countries after negotiations with rebels in southern Sudan to end a long-running civil war appeared to be bearing fruit.

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