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Human rights undermined by Darfur drama - HRW
January 13, 2005
Washington - Human rights safeguards were "significantly weakened" last year by two very different events: the humanitarian crisis in western Sudan and the scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners in US military custody, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The non-governmental organisation drew that conclusion in its annual World Report 2005, issued on Thursday in Washington.

A statement from Human Rights Watch said that the US prison scandal in Iraq and the Darfur crisis are "not equivalent", but the "vitality of global human rights depends on a firm response to each".

The 2005 report called for the US government to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate last year's scandal over the abuse of prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

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'Darfur is making a mockery of our vows'
Released by the Pentagon in the course of its own investigation, sexually degrading photographs of naked Iraqi prisoners in humiliating poses created a major international embarrassment for the US-led occupation and the Bush administration in Washington.

Seven US enlisted soldiers have been charged in the scandal: three have pleaded guilty, one is now on trial and three await trial. No commissioned military officers or civilian officials have been charged.

Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel for US President George Bush, is awaiting Senate confirmation as attorney general, though Human Rights Watch calls him "one of the chief architects of the Bush administration's torture policy".

"The US government is less and less able to push for justice abroad, because it's unwilling to see justice done at home," Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said.

"Governments facing human rights pressure from the United States now find it easy to turn the tables. Washington can't very well uphold principles that it violates itself."

'Everyone has something more important to do than to save the people of Darfur'
The report cites the governments of Egypt, Malaysia, Russia and Cuba as making such arguments to deflect human rights issues.

In Sudan's western region of Darfur, a huge humanitarian crisis developed as 1.6 million people fled the two-year-old conflict between government-linked Arab militias and rebel groups from the local black African tribes. The death toll is estimated at 70 000 people, with hundreds of thousands more endangered and surviving in refugee camps only with foreign relief supplies.

Some observers have labelled Darfur as a case of ethnic cleansing or even genocide.

"Darfur is making a mockery of our vows of 'never again'," Roth said.

He called for United Nations-led military intervention to protect civilians in Darfur. Roth criticized Western countries for letting a Darfur ceasefire be enforced by the African Union, which after nine months has deployed fewer than 1 000 troops of a planned peacekeeping force of 4 000.

"Everyone has something more important to do than to save the people of Darfur," he said. - Sapa-dpa


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