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Eyewitness to Darfur Attacks Testifies Before US Congressional Committee


A U.S. congressional committee has heard from an eyewitness who says there is unequivocal evidence the Sudanese government directly supports attacks in the Darfur region. The testimony came as lawmakers examined the State Department's annual report on human rights, with witnesses testifying about ongoing violations around the world.

Congressman Chris Smith, who chairs the House Subcommittee dealing with human rights issues, says there were success stories in 2004, such as the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the prevailing of the will of the people of Ukraine.

But he says countries singled out by the report deserve the criticism they receive on the basis of a range of human rights issues. "There is a striking similarity between the black lists of all of these reports. Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam are all countries that engage in severe violations of religious freedom. Bangladesh, Burma, Cuba, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, North Korea, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Venezuela are all Tier Three countries whose governments have made no significant efforts to satisfy the minimum standards to prevent trafficking and enslavement of people," he said.

Recently, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice referred to what she called the six outposts of tyranny, naming Cuba, North Korea, Belarus, Iran, Burma and Zimbabwe.

Congressman Smith says those on the list come as no surprise.

One witness, Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch, says there is has been very little good news in Burma. "Aung San Suu Kyi remains under House arrest, as do more than a thousand political prisoners, not under house arrest but in prison subject to torture. A few releases over the last year but many more arrests than releases," he said. "As you mentioned, an ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military against ethnic minority people in the outlying areas of the country which we have been watching, observing and denouncing for many years. /// OPT /// I really do believe it's time to start investigating properly with the aim of actually holding specific Burmese officials and military officers accountable in hopefully some day an international court."

Michael Kozak, a former U.S. Ambassador to Belarus and now Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, focused on continuing rights problems in Sudan, North Korea, Vietnam, China, Cuba, Haiti, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among other places.

The United States, he says, has deep concerns about China's record, adding that human rights issues is topic of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is raising in talks in Beijing.

However, Mr. Kozak says Beijing's release of political prisoner, Rebiya Kadeer, who was sentenced to eight years in jail on charges of passing state secrets abroad, does not lessen U.S intention to raise other rights issues: "Her release by itself is not enough. Much as we welcome it, it is one step," he said. "The totality of all the other steps I mentioned, are progress but we are still very concerned about the other prisoners who are in prison we are hoping some of these steps help to alleviate their condition to some extent but we have got to keep the pressure on."

Thursday's hearing contained riveting testimony from Brian Steidle, a former U.S. marine who helped African Union peacekeeping forces in Sudan's western Darfur region.

Mr. Steidle showed photographs of people killed by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese government helicopters assisting in attacks. "This individual had been hit in the head, a direct shot by a rocket from a helicopter gunship. It is common practice for the Janjaweed to lock people in their huts, pull the door shut, before they burn the huts down and this is the result. A helicopter gunship flying over the village of Labado after just recently firing. This village is no longer there," he said.

Other testimony in Thursday's hearing focused on growing anti-semitism in Europe and the continuing instances of anti-Israeli anti-Jewish content in the media of Arab countries.

A spokesman for Amnesty International focused on ongoing human rights problems in African nations such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and urged greater world efforts to protect the rights of women.

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