U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to focus as much attention on the tragic situation in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur as it has on the crises in the Middle East. A statement from the secretary general read at the opening of the council's second regular session warned that the situation in Darfur threatens to get worse in the future.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, followed her reading of the secretary-general's statement with a sharp rebuke of her own. She called attention to the deteriorating situation in Darfur and condemned the Sudanese government and rebels for failing to protect civilians, particularly women.
Despite last May's peace agreement, Arbour said violations of human rights were perpetrated on a large scale by government forces and their associated militia, as well as by rebel groups.
"Combatants routinely make a mockery of the principles of international humanitarian law. Not only are armed groups failing to discriminate between civilians and combatants, they specifically target civilians who are from tribes and groups perceived as hostile," she said. "Despite repeated assurances by the government of Sudan, the level of sexual violence in Darfur continues to rise. No progress is made in holding anyone accountable for these and other crimes."
The war in Darfur erupted in early 2003 between government supported Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed and black African rebel groups. The United Nations estimates at least 200,000 people have died and more than two million have been made homeless by the conflict.
The Sudanese government refuses to allow U.N. peacekeepers to take over from the struggling African Union force currently in Darfur to protect the civilian population. Secretary-General Annan has put the government of Sudan on notice that it cannot escape accountability for atrocities perpetrated against the people of Darfur.
Arbour agreed that it is the government's primary responsibility to protect these people.
"The government refuses the international assistance that the Security Council deems essential for the effective protection of the population in Darfur," continued Arbour. "In the face of a near collapse of the prevention and protection initiatives put forward by the international community, we must stress, in the last instance, the need for unflinching accountability."
The high commissioner criticized, what she called, the continued and clear failure or willingness of the Sudanese government to bring those guilty of crimes to justice. In light of this failure, she warned the International Criminal Court would hold those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law to account.
Arbour urged U.N. member states to give their unequivocal support to the work of the court. She said the Sudanese government's cooperation with the court is not optional, it is an obligation. Sudan denies that it it responsible for the violence.