NEW YORK The tiny island of Mauritius, openly propelled by the United States, yesterday defeated Sudan in the election to represent Africa on the U.N. Security Council next year.
Sudan had won the endorsement of the Organization of African Unity this summer, but international concerns about its human rights record were fanned by American diplomats in New York and in capitals around the world.
Mauritius squeaked past the required two-thirds majority vote in the fourth round of balloting, besting Sudan by 113 votes to 55.
In a considerably less-dramatic contest, Ireland and Norway won the two seats allotted to Western Europe and other democracies, edging out Italy. Singapore and Colombia, running unopposed, swept to victory on the first ballots to represent Asia and the Latin and Caribbean nations, respectively.
The 15-member Security Council has five permanent members: the United States, Russia, France, China and Great Britain. The other 10 are elected to staggered two-year terms.
The General Assembly vote, as framed by Washington, pitted international human-rights norms against African sovereignty.
“By American standards, they handled this with velvet gloves,” said David Malone, president of the International Peace Academy and an informal historian of the Security Council. He said Mauritius with its history of democracy and support of southern African nations could have had a reasonable chance to succeed even without Khartoum as an alternative.
Riven by a 20-year civil war, Sudan has long attracted criticism of international human rights groups. They accuse the predominantly Islamic government of massacring hundreds of thousands of Christians and civilians in the south of the country, and abetting a grim slave trade.
Khartoum has also maintained a spot on the State Department’s list of terrorism sponsors. In 1998 U.S. cruise missiles hammered a suspected chemical weapons factory after it was erroneously linked to the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 1996, the Security Council itself leveled a narrow air embargo against Sudan for supposedly sheltering would-be assassins of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
“We’re delighted,” said Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “The integrity of the council is preserved … and Africa’s voice remains a credible one.”
She also said she hoped the vote would send a message to Khartoum “that they can’t snow the entire international community with an international charm offensive when the facts on the ground are so terrible.”
The elections are such a sensitive matter that they are one of the few assembly votes to be cast in secret. The election traditionally is one of the most energized events in the assembly chambers, accompanied by last-minute horse-trading and vote-promising.
The Sudanese delegates, for example, turned out in national dress, long white robes with tall turbans, loosely tied. At first they received enthusiastic diplomats with big handshakes and hugs, but as the voting wore on, they shrunk a bit in their seats, talking on cell phones, chewing gum and ignoring the general hubbub in the hall.
The Mauritians who have maintained a low profile throughout the campaign seemed to almost disappear yesterday, leaving their seats staffed by junior ministers for much of the vote and receiving well-wishers politely.
One of their first matters of council business may well be the lifting of sanctions against Sudan.
This past spring, 14 council members were in loose agreement that Sudan had tried, but was unable, to find the Mubarak assassins and the sanctions were therefore no longer necessary. The United States, a permanent member, refused to lift the embargo until after the November presidential elections, according to other delegates.