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Sudan, Zimbabwe Escape Censure at UN Human Rights Meeting - 2003-04-17


Sudan and Zimbabwe have escaped criticism at the annual meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Human rights activists say members of the commission are more interested in protecting each other than aiding abuse victims.

By a vote of 26-24, the Human Rights Commission rejected Wednesday a European Union motion condemning human rights violations in Sudan. The commission, the top U.N. human rights forum, also blocked a bid to have a public hearing on Zimbabwe. Thirteen of the 14 African members of the commission voted to reject censuring Sudan and all 14 voted not to hold a hearing on Zimbabwe.

A British diplomat called the votes disappointing, particularly regarding Zimbabwe, because there was no substantive debate.

A spokeswoman for the rights-monitoring group Human Rights Watch, Lubna Freih, says the defeat of the Sudan resolution is especially troubling, because it ends U.N. monitoring in Sudan at a crucial time. Although peace efforts are under way, the conflict between government and rebel forces is continuing.

"This was the only chance to make sure that human rights would be at the center of the peace process," she said. "It is a fragile peace process. It is at a very early stage. Over the last decade, we have seen no improvements in terms of human rights."

Rights activists say that both the Sudanese government and rebel forces impede people's rights to free assembly and speech. They also accuse Sudanese authorities of arbitrarily detaining, and sometimes torturing, political opponents.

Regarding Zimbabwe, human rights officials point to the use of food as a political weapon and the government seizure of farms owned by whites as serious rights concerns.

Ms. Freih says that the African commission members, for the second straight year, cited Africa's colonial past to prevent a public examination of what is happening in Zimbabwe.

"To stop the commission from considering a situation as grave as Zimbabwe is outrageous," she said. "One sad point about this as well is that they invoke a very basic sentiment of racism going back to colonial times. It is not at all about what is actually going on right now in Zimbabwe and about the suffering and the starving of the people there."

Human rights activists charge that, as matters now stand, some members of the commission are making it increasingly difficult for the commission to fulfill its task of naming and shaming countries that abuse human rights.

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