A U.N. human rights team has accused Sudan's government of orchestrating war crimes in Darfur, and blocking international attempts to intervene. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from U.N. headquarters in New York.
The 35-page U.N. report charges the Khartoum government with direct involvement in planning and carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The team, led by Nobel peace prize laureate Jody Williams, says "killing of civilians remains widespread." It adds that, "Rape and sexual violence are widespread and systematic. Torture continues."
The report was issued days after Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir rejected an interim U.N. plan to bolster African Union peacekeeping forces in Darfur.
The rejection was contained in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It dashed hopes that blue-helmeted U.N. troops might soon be deployed in Darfur. At least 200,000 people have died in the vast region of western Sudan since war broke out more than four years ago.
The United States has described the massacres in Darfur as genocide. U.N. human rights experts have declined to use that term to describe the killings, but the latest report urges the Security Council to take "urgent further action" to stop the violence.
Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones-Parry, Monday called President Bashir's letter a blow to plans for deploying a 22,000-strong U.N. force to replace the badly understaffed 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur.
"I'm very disappointed by that letter," he said. "It's a major setback, and is tantamount to a request for renegotiation of some of the points in the heavy package."
The Security Council is expected to take up the Sudan issue later this week, with the United States and European Council members saying they favor sanctions against the Khartoum government. But veto-wielding Council members China and Russia have both expressed doubts about the wisdom of sanctions.
The mission's report recommends that officials of Sudan's government be tried on war crimes charges, along with leaders of government-backed Arab militias, known as Janjaweed.
The report says that some Darfur rebel forces are also guilty of serious human rights abuses. Mission leader Jody Williams was quoted by The Associated Press Monday as saying some rebels should probably be tried alongside Sudanese officials and Janjaweed leaders.
The U.N. human rights mission was dispatched last December by the Geneva-based U.N. Rights Council, but was not granted access to Darfur. The Sudanese government has denied responsibility for the attacks mentioned in the mission's report, and blamed rebel groups that rejected a Darfur Peace Agreement signed last year in Nigeria.
Sudanese officials Monday declined to comment on the report. They said any response would come Tuesday, when Sudan is scheduled to address the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.