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UN Mission to Darfur should be non-negotiable

Bec Hamilton [representing the Genocide Intervention Network]: "In April 2006, the UN General Assembly established the Human Rights Council to replace the much beleaguered Commission on Human Rights. In December 2006, the 47-member Council held a special session to discuss the situation in Darfur. Its decision to send an independent mission of experts to assess the situation in Darfur was adopted by consensus and Sudan itself agreed to the resolution. However this week, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry stated it would deny the UN Mission entry to Sudan.

This about-face by the Government of Sudan should be viewed as "business as usual" in terms of how Khartoum plays politics with the international community. When it agreed to the UN Mission in December, its eye was on its upcoming bid for the Chairmanship of the African Union (AU). The AU remains the only organization with a presence on the ground in Darfur to protect civilians - - Sudan's bid to chair the AU was an attempt to allow the fox to guard the hen house (their bid was appropriately denied at the AU Summit in late January this year). Although it served Khartoum's interests to appear to be complying with the Human Rights Council's resolution before the AU Summit, it should have been obvious that they would take any opportunity to prevent the resolution actually being implemented when the time came.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry is now objecting to the UN Mission, claiming that one of its members, former Acting UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, is biased. But if it was not this excuse, it would be something else - - at the end of the day, having independent experts verify the ongoing devastation in Darfur is the last thing the Government of Sudan wants. Even the International Criminal Court (ICC), backed by a Security Council resolution authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, has conducted its investigation into war crimes committed in Darfur without setting foot inside Darfur.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, and head of the UN Mission, Jody Williams is sticking to her guns, asserting that "This is the mission composition today and this is the way it's staying." Williams approach is the only way to deal with the Government of Sudan's attempt to thwart the UN Mission. To give in to Khartoum's demands and replace Ramcharan would not only compromise the independence of the UN Mission, but it would send a signal to other human rights violating governments that the resolutions of the Human Rights Council are negotiable. This would set the Human Rights Council on a path to becoming the "non-credible threat" that its predecessor was.

If the Government of Sudan holds its ground, the only option may be to take the route of the ICC and conduct an investigation from outside Darfur. More likely though, is that the Government of Sudan will ultimately give in to Williams' tough stance - but not until it has stalled for long enough to generate significant media coverage of its argument that the UN Mission is biased. In doing so it will hope to preemptively undermine the ultimate findings of the UN Mission, and delay its work to the point that it is left without the time or access it needs to conduct a thorough assessment. Such are the well-rehearsed tactics of a genocidal regime. If Khartoum finally does allow the Mission in, let us hope that the international community does not exercise its equally well-rehearsed response - of praising the Government of Sudan for accepting something that should have been non-negotiable in the first place."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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