Geneva, Feb. 1, 2007 — UN Watch today urged changes to the makeup of the assessment team that the UN Human Rights Council is about to send to the troubled Darfur region of Sudan. In a letter to Council President Luis Alfonso De Alba of Mexico, the Geneva-based human rights organization protested his recent appointment of government representatives, the Geneva envoys from Gabon and Indonesia, which marked a break from the Council’s previous practice of relying exclusively on independent experts. UN Watch also voiced concern that the specific countries involved have opposed measures to hold Sudan accountable for the Darfur atrocities, and even defended the Khartoum regime’s record.
According to Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, the appointment of Council ambassadors is “inconsistent with the independence that a credible assessment mission demands, and gives the appearance of an improper attempt at political control over what should be an impartial process.”
The organization’s concerns are compounded by the specific positions of Gabon and Indonesia regarding the violations in Darfur. In November, both countries voted against an initiative that would have held Sudan accountable to its international obligation to protect the people of Darfur. The resolution’s opponents won by two votes, 22 to 20. Countries that supported the measure included European and South American democracies, Japan and Ghana.
UN Watch also noted that at the December special Council session on Darfur, Indonesian Ambassador Wibisono praised Sudan for its “open manner” on Darfur, and claimed that Sudan had “cooperated with various UN human rights mechanisms.” According to Neuer, such statements “flatly contradict every finding by UN and other international experts,” and ignore the Khartoum government’s “continued refusal to admit UN peacekeepers as mandated by the Security Council last year.”
At last year’s session of the General Assembly, Indonesia also voted in support of a “No Action” motion that successfully shielded Sudan from accountability.
“For the sake of Darfur’s victims—and the very credibility of the Council—we appeal to Ambassador De Alba to exercise his authority and urgently reconsider the composition of this team,” said Neuer.
The full text of the letter is below.
Ambassador Luis Alfonso De Alba
President of the Human Rights Council
Permanent Mission of Mexico
Avenue de Budé 16, 7th Floor
February 1, 2007
Dear Ambassador De Alba,
As you know, UN Watch has been at the forefront in advocating strong action by the Human Rights Council on the appalling human rights situation in the Sudanese region of Darfur. It is in this spirit that we write to express our deep concern over the composition of the recently-appointed Darfur assessment mission, and to appeal to you for remedial action before the team is dispatched.
From the time of the Council’s inauguration in June, UN Watch has repeatedly called on the Council to address the atrocities in Darfur as one of its first priorities. When the Council finally did take up Darfur in December, we addressed the plenary—on behalf of over thirty non-governmental organizations, the largest civil society coalition at the session—in support of the proposal to send an independent, impartial and expert assessment mission to the region. We expressed the hope that this would lay the groundwork for concrete steps to help the millions of victims there. We appreciate that the mission’s mandate is merely to assess the situation and not to investigate, because the atrocities are not objectively in doubt.
We welcome last week’s long-awaited announcement that the Darfur assessment mission’s members had been selected, and the appointment of several independent members to the team. However, we must express our deep dismay that two of the appointees are ambassadors of Human Rights Council member states, the representatives of Gabon and Indonesia.
Notwithstanding these individuals’ personal qualifications and the representation that they were invited in a personal capacity, their status as Permanent Representatives of Council member states is inconsistent with the independence and impartiality that a credible assessment mission demands. As Council members, the ambassadors will have to consider and act upon the assessment mission’s—that is to say, their own—report. Indeed, sending ambassadors on an assessment mission is unprecedented for the Council, which already has mandated at least three such missions, none of which has included government representatives. This change appears to be an attempt by the concerned party and its allies to assert political control over what should be an impartial process, and it defies the promise in the Council’s founding resolution that the body’s work—unlike that of its discredited predecessor—would be objective and non-politicized.
Compounding this concern is the particular position of the two countries involved. As you know, at the resumed second session of the Council in November, language was proposed that would have held the Sudanese government to its obligation to protect the people of Darfur. Yet both Gabon and Indonesia voted against adopting this measure for the victims of Darfur, thereby contributing to its failure.
Of particular concern here is Indonesia, which has been among the Council’s most vocal defenders of the government of Sudan. At the December special session, according to the UN summary of the debate, Ambassador Wibisono praised the government of Sudan for, in his words, addressing its humanitarian issues in “an open manner.” He cited “the fact that many international organizations, including UN specialized agencies and other relevant humanitarian organizations, had come in and were working in Sudan.” He further complimented Sudan for how it faced what he called its “internal problems,” and for being “open to the outside world.” The ambassador of Indonesia defended Sudan’s record by claiming that visiting groups “had the opportunity to talk with the displaced persons in their camps,” where they were allegedly “free to discuss the problems those persons were facing,” and by claiming that Sudan “cooperated with various UN human rights mechanisms.”
Moreover, such disturbing votes and statements—all of which contradict the findings of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and other UN experts—have not been limited to the Council. At the previous (60th) session of the General Assembly, when a resolution was proposed to protect the victims of Darfur, Indonesia supported a motion to take “No Action,” thereby contributing to the majority vote that killed the initiative.
The Council’s credibility has already suffered from its handling of Darfur. It took nearly six months to even consider this dire situation, during which time the Council enacted five resolutions and held three special sessions concerning another country. Then, when the Council finally did address Darfur, it treated Sudan with uncharacteristic deference. Not only did it refuse to find the Sudanese government guilty of any violations or possessed of any obligations, but it actually praised Sudan’s “cooperation.” Even worse, the resolution required the assessment team, in carrying out its mission, “to consult as appropriate” with the government of Sudan.
The inclusion on the mission of member state representatives—especially ones from countries that have voted or spoken out against holding the government of Sudan to account—now risks causing the Council another credibility blow. The victims of human rights violations in Darfur, and elsewhere, deserve better.
Accordingly, as President of the Council, and by virtue of the power granted to you under the December resolution, we appeal to you to reconsider the composition of the mission.
Hillel C. Neuer