For more than six months, U.N. observers, delegations from the House and Senate and aid workers from organizations such as Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders have witnessed and spoken out against what the State Department has correctly called the genocide that is being committed in Darfur by the janjaweed militias. Despite its repeated denials, it is clear that the government of Sudan is funding these attacks.
Yet in the face of all the evidence, incredibly, Sudan continues to hold a seat on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. How can that be? How, if that is the case, can the commission have any moral standing whatsoever? How can it affect change or protect human rights?
It seems plain and obvious that Sudan must be stripped of its seat and that it cannot possibly sit in judgment of the human rights records of other countries. Yet under U.N. rules, that's exactly how the Commission on Human Rights operates.
Consider the facts. Since February 2003, more than 50,000 people are believed to have been killed in the Darfur region, and 1.4 million more have been driven from their homes. Amnesty International has called these assaults "war crimes against humanity," and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called the situation in Darfur the world's worst current humanitarian crisis.
Clearly, the government responsible for such heinous acts is not the ideal entity to have setting standards by which other countries' human rights records are judged. Yet U.N. policy is that the human rights records of the 53 countries that sit on the commission may not be assessed as a prerequisite to serving on the panel. That means there is no mechanism to protect the commission from being manipulated by governments that routinely abuse human rights.
As a result, over the years the commission has been corrupted by political games that have allowed some of the world's worst human rights abusers to sit in judgment of others -- and to shield themselves from criticism. Known human rights abusers such as Algeria, Cuba, Syria, Iran, Pakistan and Zimbabwe have all served on the commission. In 2003, Libya was elected to chair the panel by a bloc of African and Middle East nations. The consequences are unmistakable: While the victims of abuse and torture suffer and die, the commission systematically ignores their plight and blocks efforts for intervention.
If the commission is to have any meaning, the United Nations should decree that countries charged with genocide and countries with totalitarian governments are not eligible to serve. And the Security Council must remove Sudan from the commission and ask the African nations that nominated it to appoint a respectable member.
The U.N. cannot continue on its current course with regard to the crisis in Sudan. Despite the abundance of evidence and outrage, the most aggressive action the Security Council has taken to date has been a resolution giving Sudan 30 days to disarm the janjaweed. Those 30 days expired Aug 30. A feckless Sept. 18 resolution threatening, but not actually applying, sanctions against Khartoum's oil industry has only served to buy more time for the regime, as has Annan's call for an "impartial commission" to investigate.
Speaking last month when the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling for Sudan's removal from the commission, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had it right when he said "the 1948 Genocide Convention calls on states-parties to 'prevent and punish' genocide when it occurs. If we are going to preserve the credibility of the United Nations and its separate commissions, advance the cause of human rights and protect oppressed people around the globe, then the U.N. must take more aggressive action."
This is a test of the integrity and decency of the U.N. as an institution. Continued inaction against Sudan will only encourage more deaths, not only in Sudan but at the hands of future tyrants who understand all too well the unwillingness and inability of the U.N. to put aside internal politics to stop them.