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US Official Rejects Efforts to Soften Criticism of Sudan for Human Rights Violations - 2004-04-22

The senior U.S. official at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva has rejected efforts by European and African countries to soften a resolution criticizing Sudan for gross violations of human rights, especially in the western province of Darfur. The Human Rights Commission has delayed a vote on a Sudan resolution until Friday, the final day of this year's session.

The head of the U.S. delegation to the commission, Ambassador Richard Williamson, said that he is upset by what is called a 'Chairperson's Statement' on the human rights situation in Sudan. The text was drafted by the European Union and a group of African countries.

Ambassador Williamson said the United States and other countries were excluded from the discussions where the statement was drafted and there are serious concerns about the text.

"Let us not get caught up in the U.N. game of illusory consensus," he stated. "This was an agreement between two groups, which you have to talk to those African countries and the members of the EU about. What I can say is we are not the only ones that have clearly stated to the EU representatives our grave reservations."

Under U.N. rules, the Chairperson's Statement would have to be adopted by consensus. Mr. Williamson indicated the United States is not inclined to vote for the text and that efforts to come up with a stronger resolution are continuing.

A reading of the text shows that it has been softened from an earlier draft, which was supposed to have been voted on Thursday. That vote was postponed because Sudan and other countries were angry at the leak of a United Nations report on alleged atrocities in Darfur.

The new text of the Chairperson's Statement makes no mention of reports of ethnic cleansing by government-backed Arab militias against black Africans in Darfur. It only calls on the armed groups to observe a cease-fire and to allow humanitarian aid to reach victims of the conflict. U.S. Ambassador Williamson added that this text in no way reflects the horrors, which are reportedly occurring in Darfur.

"Civilian areas are being directly targeted, there are indiscriminate killing of civilians, policy using rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war," he said. "Ten years from today, the only thing that will be remembered about this 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights is whether we stand up on the ethnic cleansing going on in Sudan."

The Chairperson's Statement can be changed. Ambassador Williamson said the commission will be tested on Friday when members vote on the situation in Sudan.