GENEVA, (Reuters) – Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday the United Nations’ new human rights body risked becoming deadlocked by the same political manoeuvring that sunk its discredited predecessor.
In a statement to the third session of the Human Rights Council, Annan urged member countries that are “truly determined to uphold human rights” to stand out against violations wherever they occur even if they risked angering regional allies.
“Only by showing such courage and rigour can you avoid disappointing the many people around the world who look to the U.N. for support in their struggle for human rights,” Annan said. He mentioned no countries, but he noted that in its first five months the Council had focused heavily on the Arab-Israeli conflict, holding three special sessions to approve resolutions condemning alleged violations by the Jewish state. But there were other situations in the world, particularly the crisis in the Sudan region of Darfur, which were equally or even more needing of attention, Annan said. “There are surely other situations, besides the one in the Middle East, which would merit scrutiny at a special session…I would suggest that Darfur is a glaring case in point,” he said.
On Tuesday, for the first time, the 47-state Council passed a mildly worded resolution sponsored by African states expressing concern at human rights violations in Sudan, but it avoided placing any blame on the Khartoum government.
The wording of the resolution, passed by 25 votes to 11, with 10 abstentions, angered European countries on the Geneva-based Council which had sought to highlight the responsibility of the Sudan government to rein in rights violations and bring those involved to justice.
Khartoum says the situation in Darfur, where aid organisations say some 200,000 have died in violence since 2003, is better since a May 2006 peace deal with one rebel group.
But U.N. and humanitarian officials deny any improvement and U.N. High Commissioner Louise Arbour told the Council on Wednesday that the killing, rape and enforced displacement of civilians were as bad as in the “horrific” levels of early 2004. “The same atrocities which led the Security Council to refer the case to the ICC (International Criminal Court) in January 2005 continue to be a daily occurrence in Darfur,” she said.
Critics of the Council, launched in June 2006 as part of a wider programme of U.N. reform, say its focus on Israel shows that it has succumbed to the political alliances that hobbled the old Human Rights Commission.
Annan said that a “new atmosphere” was urgently needed but that some of the criticism of the Council was premature.