- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

NEW YORK — A U.N.-backed panel issued a stinging assessment of human rights violations by Sudan’s government in Darfur yesterday and a critical evaluation of the United Nations for failing to back up resolutions to stop the killing there with action.

A report issued yesterday by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council marked the first time the revamped body has initiated a substantive review of any nation other than Israel.

“Killing of civilians remains widespread, including in large-scale attacks. Rape and sexual violence are widespread and systematic. Torture continues. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common, as is repression of political dissent,” wrote panel leader Jody Williams, best known as the Canadian crusader against land mines.

“Mechanisms of justice and accountability, where they exist, are under-resourced, politically compromised and ineffective,” Ms. Williams wrote.

“As violations and abuses continue unabated, a climate of impunity prevails,” the report says.

Yesterday marked the opening of a three-week session of the rights council, which replaced the largely discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission in 2006.

Sudanese diplomats are expected to present their case to the human rights body this morning, when the council discusses the report.

The African Union (AU) has a limited peacekeeping presence in some areas of Darfur, an arid region in western Sudan where arable land and water have long been in short supply.

However, the AU force has been largely ineffective against government-backed militias.

International efforts to beef up the AU Mission in Sudan, or AMIS, have yielded little, as Sudanese President Omar Bashir continues to resist heavier support from the United Nations.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Gen. Bashir appeared to reject the proposed hybrid force of AU soldiers supplemented by U.N. peacekeepers and international military support.

The proposal will require more discussion, Gen. Bashir wrote to Mr. Ban on Friday, to the dismay of Security Council members and human rights advocates who denounced the response yesterday as a stalling tactic.

Western rights activists say at least 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2003, and an estimated 2.5 million have been driven from their homes to squalid refugee camps.

Ms. Williams also blasted the Security Council and U.N. Secretariat for failing to do much more than talk about protecting civilians.

The report says that Khartoum is conducting its own inquiries and even tribunals into the violence in Darfur, but has taken very little action of substance.

Rebel groups are contributing to the problem, the report says, fragmenting into disorganized fighting forces that do not respect civilians or humanitarian aid efforts.

Attacks on international-relief workers in Darfur by both the government and rebels have expanded since 2005, according to the report, and the government continues to delay or deny visas to Darfur and obstructs travel within the region.

Twelve aid workers have been killed in the last six months, while U.N. and other relief compounds have been attacked.

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