A United Nations General Assembly commitee has rejected a resolution that would have condemned human rights violations in Sudan. The action drew a sharp rebuke from the United States and the European Union, and a spirited defense from African nations.

The General Assembly's committee on social, cultural and humanitarian affairs voted Wednesday to take no action on a measure that voiced grave concern at human rights conditions in Sudan.

Ninety one of the 191 U.N. member countries voted for the "no action" motion. The United States and European Union countries, which sponsored the resolution, were among 74 nations that tried in vain to save it.

Speaking to the committee Wednesday, U.S. delegate Gerald Scott charged that U.N. bodies have a "bad history" of failing to acknowledge Sudan's human rights abuses.

He pointed to three instances this year, including the African Union's nomination of Sudan to serve on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, a move that prompted the United States to stage a walkout in protest.

Ambassador Scott called the refusal to condemn atrocities in Sudan "an indefensible parochially motivated action". He said "three consecutive failures of member states of the United Nations to present a unified front against well-documented atrocities would represent nothing less than the complete breakdown of the U.N.'s deliberative bodies related to human rights. If these bodies cannot speak with one voice on an issue as clear as Darfur, what can they do?"

Netherland's Ambassador Dirk Jan Van den Berg, representing the European Union, noted that the Security Council had passed several tough resolutions on Sudan in recent months, going so far as to threaten sanctions against Khartoum unless it took action to stop atrocities in Darfur. He said the General Assembly must follow suit or risk becoming irrelevant.

"How can we explain that the Security Council speaks out on the human rights situation in Sudan while the General Assembly remains silent," he said. "The European Union strongly urges delegations to vote against this motion to adjourn the debate, for reasons of principle, and to prevent the General Assembly from fading away into irrelevance."

But African countries, backed by many Islamic nations, stood firmly with Sudan in voting to kill the resolution.

South Africa, representing the African group at the world body, said it opposed all resolutions condemning a specific country.

Pitso Montwedi, director of human rights in South Africa's foreign ministry, denied that the "no action" motion constituted a defense of Sudan's rights record. He said condemning the Khartoum government would have undermined African efforts to end the country's long-running civil war.

"I should emphasize at the beginning that the African group had chosen to use this rule not as a denial of violations of human rights in Africa but only for the purposes of countering the double standards of the European Union," he said.

The General Assembly also adopted a "no action" motion Wednesday on a similar resolution critical of Zimbabwe.

Anticipating the no-action motion Tuesday, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Danforth called it tantamount to "condoning atrocities". He said the move would send a message from the General Assembly to the people of Sudan that, "you may be suffering, but we can't be bothered".