Human Rights Council abolishes expert group monitoring Darfur

The UN Human Rights Council concluded its final session of 2007 by abolishing a group of experts who had reported on Sudan’s massive human rights abuses in the province of Darfur. By turning its back on the victims of Darfur, the council — which is controlled by powerful regional blocs that include many repressive regimes allied to Sudan — is failing to respect its basic mandate. The dream of Kofi Annan’s reform plan has been turned into a nightmare.

Resolution Sacked Darfur Experts

The council did extend the mandate of Sima Sumar, special rapporteur on Sudan, but the far stronger and more influential expert group was eliminated. The resolution on the Darfur expert group (A/HRC/6/L.51) was adopted by consensus, co-sponsored by Egypt on behalf of the African Group, and Portugal on behalf of the European Union. While the resolution “welcome[d] the report submitted by the Group of Experts” and called on the government of Sudan to take action against “serious violations of human rights,” the resolution quietly omitted any reference to their future work, effectively canceling their mandate.

Once again, the European Union has sought to hide the failures of the council, and failed to call a vote on the resolution. It would have lost — but at least the world would know the truth. As was the case when the council sacked the monitors on Cuba and Belarus, the best way to find out about the failures of the Council is to see the latest victory trumpeted in the press of the abusers. Here’s what Sudan’s media had to say:

The European Group and the African Group in the Human Rights Council have reached a consensual decision to end the mission of the committee of the Seven Thematic Rapporteurs on Human Rights in the Sudan and decided to extend the mission of the Human Rights Commissioner Sima Samar for another year provide that she would provide the Council with a report by coming September.

We even learn how the EU diplomats congratulated Sudan:

The Chairman of the European Group in the Council, who is the ambassador of Portugal, contacted the Sudanese Permanent Mission in Geneva to express his congratulations at the end of the meeting that included the European and the African Groups. The decision will be tabled before the Human Rights Council’s closing session to approve it in its final form.

According to Sudan, the matter of the atrocities could be solved easily if only Sudan was given more money:

Dr Ibrahim Mirghani, Sudan’s Representative in Geneva told the Sudan News Agency that the decision reflects the cooperation the rapporteurs have found from the government of Sudan and said the implementation of a number of recommendations that have been agreed upon and to continue with the implementation of the recommendations that have not been implemented due to lack of assistance from the international community, stressing the need to continue providing assistance to the Sudan so that it could continue with the implementation of the remainder of the recommendations. He said it also calls on the rebels in Darfur to respond to the peace call and to join the Darfur Peace Agreement, urging all parties to protect civilians, particularly women and children. Ambassador Ibrahim said he considers the decision an excellent one and that it reflects the strong stance of the African groups and its full backing for the Sudan. He said he expects the Council to commend the cooperation of the government of Sudan with the human rights mechanisms. He said the negotiations were led on behalf of the African Group by the ambassador of Egypt with the full support of the group of Organization of the Islamic Conference in the Council. He said a number of countries have taken the lead to congratulate Sudan on this decision including the ambassadors of China, Russia and Cuba.

The Swiss seem to agree:

He said Switzerland has today announced a donation of 700,000 Swiss Francs as a technical assistance to the Sudan in the human rights domain. He said some other five Western states have also expressed readiness to provide similar assistance to the Sudan. He said the international community has in brief commended the cooperation the Sudanese government has shown with the human rights mechanisms and call on the Sudanese government to continue with this positive attitude. It is to be recalled that the Sudanese delegation to the meetings of the council has included the Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice Abdul Moneim Zumrawi, and the Commissioner for Humanitarian Assistance, Hassabou Mohamed Abdul Rahaman as well as the Rapporteur of the Sudanese Council for Human Rights, Dr Abdul Moneim Osman Mohamed Taha.

Once again, the Council sends a green light to Sudan. Despite this glaring failure of the Council, most countries were busy congratulating each other on reaching consensus. Declaring victory is always the message from diplomats at the UN, as former US Ambassador John Bolton correctly explains in his latest book. Genuine action is not the goal, but consensus.

In addition, the other Sudan resolution — to renew the mandate of special rapporteur Sima Sumar expert on Sudan — also had its share of disappointments. Rather than holding Sudan accountable, the resolution said the expert’s new role will be to “assess the needs of Sudan…and to mobilize the necessary international technical and financial support for Sudan…”

In other words, the UN expert on Sudan is now a global fundraiser and cheerleader for the government of Sudan, rather than an objective and independent voice for the victims of government-sponsored violence and rape. UN Watch spoke out last week for real scrutiny, but our call fell on deaf ears.

Expert on Freedom of Religion Renewed

There were, however, two rays of light on Friday. The resolution on religious discrimination passed over the objections of Pakistan on behalf of the Islamic group, China and South Africa. While the resolution explicitly condemned “all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief,” Pakistan and others argued that such a resolution did not consider the “need to respect all religions” — a reference to the Islamic attempt to limit freedom of speech in name of combating “defamation of Islam.” The Islamic group also attacked a reference in the text that protected individuals who convert from one faith to another, which, Saudi Arabia said, was “against Sharia.”

In the end, the Islamic states and their supporters abstained rather than voted against the resolution, which can be explained only by the murky game of UN vote-trading (see how they voted).

In a rare victory for human rights defenders, a resolution to maintain the UN expert on the situation in Myanmar was adopted by consensus. Burma rejected the renewed mandate, saying that it represented “pressure from influential and powerful countries.”

Other resolutions that were adopted by consensus without any major debate or discussion included issues related to an “alliance of civilizations,” adequate housing, internally displaced persons, the right to health, the promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, technical assistance to Liberia, and indigenous peoples’ rights.

The Council will reconvene for its major session of the year on March 3–28, 2008.

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