War crimes likely to have occurred in Darfur, Sudan, UN rights expert says

War crimes likely to have occurred in Darfur, Sudan, UN rights expert says

A United Nations human rights expert said today it was likely that numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed during the conflict that has engulfed western Sudan's Darfur region since early last year.

Emmanuel Akwei Addo, Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Sudan, told the General Assembly's social, humanitarian and cultural committee there were strong indications of such crimes, including murders, rapes, acts of torture and forcible displacement of civilians.

He also criticized the Sudanese Government for unleashing high-technology weapons in its conflict with two rebel groups in Darfur, saying they tend to produce massive and indiscriminate destruction.

Mr. Addo visited Sudan in August to assess the situation in the country's two civil conflicts - the one in Darfur that began early last year when rebel groups took up arms, and the other in southern Sudan that has lasted for 21 years.

In Darfur, more than 1.45 million people are internally displaced and another 200,000 are refugees in neighbouring Chad because of the fighting and because of brutal and often deadly attacks by Janjaweed militias against civilians.

Mr. Addo said it was clear that Khartoum was not able or willing to disarm the Janjaweed or effectively protect civilians in Darfur, and he urged a greater international role in the region, particularly from the African Union (AU).

Mr. Addo was one of several rapporteurs or human rights experts to address the Assembly panel, also known as the Third Committee, today.

Special Rapporteur Paul Hunt on the right to health called for stepped-up efforts around the world to reduce the "profound disparities" in average health between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

Mr. Hunt stressed the importance of working towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight, time-bound targets for reducing poverty, hunger and disadvantage agreed to by world leaders at summit in 2000. Four of the goals relate to health.

Mr. Hunt said many poor countries will be unable to achieve those health-related goals, such as combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and improving maternal health, unless industrialized nations honour their commitments to give more development aid and support.

Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, told the Committee she visited El Salvador, Guatemala, the occupied Palestinian territories and Darfur in the past year. Trips are planned for Mexico, Iran and Algeria over the next year.

Ms. Ertürk said she was pleased that violence against women was increasingly taken seriously as an issue by the international community. But she added that justice would not be achieved until more political will and determination was shown.

The Rapporteur also said it was critical that criminal justice sanctions for violent crimes not be replaced by conciliation methods, especially when sexual offences are involved.