- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

GENEVA — China and Russia joined with Arab and Muslim states yesterday 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 Security Council members argued that the mission, led last month by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, 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 assertion that the report had no legal basis.

“The so-called mission failed to make an on-site 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.

After initially agreeing to the mission, the government of Sudan refused to grant visas to the five-member team because the country objected to one of the mission members. It said the member had previously spoken of genocide in Darfur, thus could not be objective.

The U.N. investigators, asked by the council in December to examine reports of massive abuse in Darfur, were forced to conduct their work from neighboring 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 fighting broke out between rebels and government-backed Arab militias four years ago in Darfur.

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

“This faulty report should not be discussed,” Sudan Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Elmardi told the council.

The situation in Darfur is seen by many as a test for the Human Rights Council. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights was disbanded by the United Nations in March 2006, because it had been rendered ineffective and meaningless by political bickering and the membership of so many known human rights abusers.

The U.N. General Assembly chose 47 new members of the new Human Rights Council in May 2006, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba, all members that the United States singles out in its annual human rights report. The United States did not apply for membership in the current body. Human rights advocates are watching to see whether the latest incarnation is any more effective than the old commission.

Earlier, Mrs. Williams had urged the council to act on her team’s recommendations, saying: “Innocent civilians continue to suffer and die. They do not need more reports. They are pleading for protection.”

Western members of the council supported the findings of the report, the latest international probe to point the finger at Khartoum over the violence in Darfur, and a number of African states, including Zambia, Nigeria and Senegal, joined them.

The report declared that the government had “manifestly failed to protect the population … from large-scale international crimes and has itself orchestrated and participated in these crimes.”

Rebels were also guilty of crimes against civilians, it said.

“I urge the members of the Human Rights Council to act on the relevant recommendations … with the aim of improving the situation of human rights in Darfur,” the European’s Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said.

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