UN rights body urges Sudan to prosecute war crimes

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GENEVA, July 27 (Reuters) The United Nations Human Rights Committee today called on Sudan to halt and prosecute war crimes in Darfur and ensure no support reached militias carrying out ethnic cleansing.

''Widespread and systematic serious human rights violations including murder, rape, forced displacement and attacks against the civil population, have been and continue to be committed with total impunity throughout Sudan and particularly in Darfur,'' the body of 18 independent experts said in a report.

It expressed concern that Sudan had not carried out a thorough and independent investigation into serious human rights violations, especially in Darfur where violence has been raging for more than four years.

The committee, which monitors compliance with the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a cornerstone of human rights law, gave its conclusions on the records of three countries including Sudan after a three-week meeting in Geneva.

Referring to ''war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in Darfur'', the body called on Khartoum to ensure that ''state agents, including all security forces and militia under state control, put an end to such violations immediately''.

The government should also ''ensure that no financial support or material is channelled to militias that engage in ethnic cleansing or the deliberate targeting of civilians'', it said.

''This has been a major problem in Sudan, that more or less covert assistance has been given to certain elements that have been pursuing gross violations of human rights,'' committee vice-chairman Ivan Shearer told a Geneva news briefing.

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million been forced from their homes since revolt erupted in Darfur in 2003. Washington blames the government and its allied militias for the violence, which it calls genocide. Khartoum rejects the term and says that about 9,000 people have died.

TORTURE AND SLAVERY In its conclusions on Sudan, the UN committee expressed concern at reports of widespread torture in prisons, persistent discrimination against women and the forced use of child soldiers and slavery in the country.

It told Khartoum to report back in a year on its progress in addressing issues including prosecuting war crimes and improving cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

''Serious crimes arising out of the situation in Darfur must be properly followed up and urgently prosecuted without amnesty,'' said Shearer, an Australian expert.

The Hague-based ICC has issued arrest warrants for junior cabinet Minister Ahmed Haroun and an allied militia leader, both accused of conspiring to commit war crimes including mass executions, but Sudan has refused to hand over the two suspects.

A Sudanese delegation defended its human rights record before the committee two weeks ago, faulting rebel groups for not stopping ''gross violations'' in Darfur.

The UN body, which examined Sudan's record for the first time in 10 years, welcomed the 2005 peace agreement ending civil war in the south and the May 2006 peace deal in the western region Darfur, signed by only one of three rebel factions.

However it said it regretted there had not been more information about the human rights situation in southern Sudan, according to Egyptian vice chair Ahmed Tawfik Khalil.


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