- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

From combined dispatches

UNITED NATIONS | The United States Friday criticized as “reckless” and “callous” Sudan’s decision to expel more than a dozen aid groups, saying it put millions of people’s lives at risk in the country’s western Darfur region.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office said it will examine whether Khartoum’s decision constitutes a breach of basic human rights and possibly a war crime.

“The United States is gravely concerned by the reckless decision of the Sudanese government to expel international aid groups working to ease the suffering of Sudan’s citizens,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice told reporters.

“The humanitarian situation in the country is already dire, and this callous step threatens the lives of innocents already suffering from years of war and upheaval,” Ms. Rice said in a conference call, according to Reuters news agency.

The move by Sudan came after the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged President Omar Bashir with war crimes in Darfur. Officials in Khartoum ordered 13 high-profile aid agencies out of Darfur, including Oxfam and Save the Children, accusing them of passing evidence to the court.

“Millions of civilians, including untold thousands of children and elderly people, will be left even more vulnerable to starvation, disease, despair and death if the government of Sudan does not immediately change course,” Ms. Rice said.

“The government of Sudan at its own choosing is now heading down a path toward even greater international isolation.”

Ms. Rice said she had a “forceful” conversation with Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, in which she told him the decision was counterproductive and an “enormous escalation” that would exacerbate the situation on the ground and harm Sudan’s relations with the international community.

Ms. Rice was asked whether Washington was still considering the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Darfur as the new U.S. administration has indicated previously. She said that option was being “considered and discussed” as part of a policy review the administration is undertaking.

U.S. officials, she said, were consulting with others on the Security Council about the issue and were awaiting a briefing from U.N. humanitarian officials during a special closed-door council session on Sudan later Friday.

The World Food Program estimates that 1 million of the 2 million to 3 million people it feeds each month are dependent on deliveries from the groups that have been expelled.

In Geneva, the spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, Rupert Colville, said the Sudanese decision to expel relief workers constitutes a “grievous dereliction” of duty, putting the lives of thousands at risk, the Associated Press reported.

“To knowingly and deliberately deprive such a huge group of civilians of means to survive is a deplorable act,” said Mr. Colville, who speaks for U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay.

Under the Geneva Conventions it is illegal to intentionally starve people by blocking their access to food. The rule applies to international conflicts, but efforts have been made to incorporate it in customary international humanitarian law, which would carry weight in courts.

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