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The United Nations Human Rights Council has agreed a resolution that lets Sudan off the hook for continuing human rights abuses in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said today. The resolution, which is expected to be adopted by consensus on December 14, 2007 rewards Khartoum’s failure to take the steps to address the Darfur crisis identified by a group of experts appointed by the council.

“With this resolution, the council has squandered the good work done by the Darfur experts’ group,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “To achieve consensus, the council crossed the line from necessary compromise on Darfur to appeasement of Sudan and its allies.”

The council’s resolution “acknowledges the cooperation” of Sudan and “welcomes the open and constructive dialogue” between Sudan and the experts’ group. This is directly contradicted by the experts’ group, which concluded that while cooperation with Sudan had worked well in procedural terms:

    [I]n terms of substance … few recommendations have been fully implemented or reportedly had a tangible impact on the ground. Several recommendations that were prioritized as short-term and could have been implemented within three months… have not yet been implemented.

The experts’ group noted that “initial steps” have been made by Sudan with regard to many of the recommendations, but found that a significant number of recommendations have not been addressed at all.

Despite this, the council’s resolution “acknowledges the efforts made by the Government of Sudan to implement the recommendations identified by the Group of Experts, but expresses its concern that, for various reasons, the implementation of many recommendations has not been fully completed.” In fact, the experts’ group concluded that “only a few” of the recommendations have been implemented and held Sudan responsible rather than attributing the lack of progress to “various reasons.”

The resolution was supported by both the group of African states in the council, led by Egypt, and the European Union. Portugal, acting for the EU, had introduced a somewhat stronger draft resolution, but agreed to the weaker text in order to avoid a vote.

“The council’s reluctance to criticize abusive governments, even when those states directly obstruct its work, is deeply damaging,” Hicks said. “Supporters of human rights at the council should stand on principle instead of lowering the bar for abusers.”

The council did agree to a second resolution which extends by one year the mandate of an expert appointed to address the human rights situation in all of Sudan. But under this extension, the “special rapporteur” on Sudan, Sima Samar of Afghanistan, is requested to “ensure the effective follow-up and to foster the implementation of the remaining short-term and the medium-term recommendations” from the experts’ group report. In effect, the work undertaken by a seven-member expert group has been unloaded onto the special rapporteur, who has limited staff and resources.

The council’s downgrading of attention to Darfur comes at a critical time: the hybrid UN-African Union force to which Sudan reluctantly agreed last summer is scheduled to assume control of peacekeeping on December 31. Preparations for the new force are woefully behind schedule, however, and Sudan is obstructing its deployment. Especially given the increasing fragility of peace agreements in the south and east of Sudan, the council ought to be addressing serious human rights abuses which persist across the country.

“The council downgraded its work on Darfur and undercut its efforts on Sudan – and sadly the people of Sudan will pay the price,” Hicks said.

At this one-week council session, the special rapporteur on Burma, Paulo Pinheiro, briefed the council on his recent mission to that country. After years of being denied access to Burma, Pinheiro was able to travel to Burma in November following a resolution adopted by the council in a special session on October 2.

Despite the council’s continuing reluctance to confront abusive governments, it did take action on the Burma crisis. In a resolution also scheduled for adoption today, the council called again for Burma to release those detained in connection with the recent protests, as well as all political detainees in Burma, including opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It also requested the special rapporteur to conduct a follow-up mission to Burma.

In a second positive step, the council is scheduled to adopt a resolution that calls for specific measures to integrate the human rights of women and a gender perspective into the work of the council. Despite earlier statements in favor of a strong stance on women’s human rights, several states – including notably Egypt, Russian Federation and South Africa – argued against the resolution’s call for an annual discussion on women’s human rights, as well as key accountability and oversight provisions.

Finally, we welcome the council’s decision to adopt by consensus the resolution extending the mandate on counterterrorism for an additional three years.

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