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Rights Group Urges South Africa to Win UN Security Council Action on Somalia, Darfur

An international watchdog group has appealed to this month’s presiding delegation on the UN Security Council to use its influence to relieve human suffering in Somalia and in Sudan’s embattled Darfur region. South Africa assumes the presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of April today, with calls from Human Rights Watch to push for progress on crises in Somalia and Sudan’s Darfur. The organization’s UN advocacy director Steve Crawshaw says that Pretoria has a unique opportunity to bring an end to horrible abuses in these places and save lives.

In Somalia, we’ve seen terrible crimes against civilians, by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), by the Ethiopian forces, and also by the insurgents. One of the things we think South Africa could play a leading role in making happen would be an international commission of inquiry, which would look into the crimes committed and begin to identify those responsible in a way that would send a signal that there is a kind of accountability here. That there’s a climate of human rights observers on the ground would also be another important step if South Africa is able to do something to break that deadlock,” he said.

A letter this week from Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth to South Africa’s minister of foreign affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and members of the Security Council points out the need for South African leadership to stir the UN’s peacekeeping arm to do more to protect civilians in both east African troublespots. But it noted that so far, the body has failed the people of Darfur and Somalia. Steve Crawshaw says that a UN commission of inquiry already operating in Darfur has set the guidelines for bringing offenders to justice, but that further pressure must be brought to bear on the Khartoum government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, which intends to prosecute two suspected Darfur war criminals.

“In Darfur, the commission of inquiry clearly identified the crimes that were being committed and in a sense led directly to the referral to the International Criminal Court a couple of years ago, which in itself sent the important signal, saying crimes may be committed now. Somebody at some point is going to be held accountable. One can hope that it kind of sends a deterrent signal also,” he said.

Human Rights Watch says that furthering these probes, along with winning Sudanese compliance in upgrading an international hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur will require diligent prodding by a Security Council whose presiding chair for the month can inspire others to take action. Advocacy director Crawshaw says Pretoria has not shown enough initiative in the past.

“What we are looking for is political will. I think it’s disappointing that South Africa, which was a most important member of the International Criminal Court when it was first created, has in the mean time seemed to back off from that concept. What we’re seeing at the moment is that the people who have been indicted without that sense of the real criminals being brought to justice at the end of it will soon be getting the Sudanese government playing games as we have done before. So I think a real commitment from South Africa would be very, very useful,” he suggested.