She came to the Sudan … and cashed her salary in dollars

This teacher could have received 40 lashes, but was sentenced instead to 15 days in jail — while demonstrators are calling for her execution. Her crime? Officially, that she allowed her students to name a class teddy bear “Muhammad”. Scholars can debate whether this is in any way an offense against Islam (though I am amazed that it could be thought so). But the real cause for grievance may be rather more base: “A Muslim cleric at Khartoum’s main Martyrs Mosque denounced Gibbons during one sermon, saying she intentionally insulted Islam. He did not call for protests, however. ‘Imprisoning this lady does not satisfy the thirst of Muslims in Sudan. But we welcome imprisonment and expulsion’, the cleric, Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri, a well-known hard-liner, told worshippers. ‘This an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad’, he said”. The report on the demonstrations in Sudan are here.

Here are some excerpts from remarks made by British Muslims — of a decidedly different tone — included in an Associated Press “Questions and Answers” file on the “teddy bear controversy”: “Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, who chairs the interfaith council of the Muslim Council of Britain, says the Sudanese trial was more political than religious. Gibbons did make a mistake, he says, but it was an innocent one. A Muslim teacher would not have named a teddy bear Muhammad because ‘they know the score with the name’, Mogra said, adding that such stuffed toys were largely alien to Sudanese culture. ‘In Britain, there are hardly any children who grew up without a teddy bear’, Mogra said. In the Sudanese culture, the bear is not a cuddly thing. It is seen as vicious, ferocious animal, and when you use the name Muhammad and attach it to a ferocious animal, there is scope there for it to cause (suspicion)’.” The AP Q and A file is posted here.

Losing patience with Sudan over Darfur

The UN Security Council members — especially the U.S. — are “losing patience” with Sudan over the delays on deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur.

At the same time, a “team” despatched on a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva left for an eleven-day visit to the region on Saturday — still without visas for Sudan.
“Team” members told journalists in Geneva on Friday that they hoped they would get their visas on their first stop, in Addis Ababa, where the UN has its regional office for Africa, and where the African Union has its headquarters.

Last Tuesday, the AP’s industrious Edith Lederer reported from UNHQ/NY that “Security Council members expressed frustration and skepticism Tuesday at Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s failure to give a green light to a joint United Nations-African Union force to help bring peace to conflict-wracked Darfur. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met the Sudanese leader last month, told reporters after briefing the council on his trip to Africa and Europe that he is still waiting for ‘a positive and clear agreement’ from the Sudanese government to pave the way for deployment of the ‘hybrid’ force…More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million been chased from their homes in Sudan’s remote western region since 2003, when rebels stemming from ethnic African tribes rose up against the central government. Khartoum is accused of having responded with indiscriminate killings by unleashing the janjaweed militias of Arab nomads blamed for the worst atrocities in Darfur, in a conflict that the White House and others have labeled genocide. The government denies these charges. Sudanese officials agreed in November on a three-phase U.N. package to help end the escalating violence in Darfur that culminates with the deployment of a 22,000-strong AU-UN force. But al-Bashir said last month that U.N. troops were not required in Darfur because the 7,000-strong African Union force on the ground could maintain order.”

The AP story had some interesting quotes from a British diplomat at the UN: “Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador Karen Pierce said ‘there was a lot of skepticism in the council that Bashir was really trying hard to make this work, and the secretary-general said he’d had a number of difficult conversations with Bashir where Bashir had been defensive’. The Sudanese government and one of the major rebel groups signed a peace agreement in May. But the pact has provoked months of fighting between rival rebel factions that refused to sign. As part of the effort to re-energize the peace process, the U.N. said Ban’s special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, and the AU’s special envoy for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, are heading to Khartoum and Darfur from Feb. 12-17. Pierce said the timetable appears to be that Eliasson and Salim will go to New York after their mission to report to the secretary-general. Ban will then see AU chief executive Alpha Oumar Konare. After that, the U.N. and AU will draw up a draft proposal that would go to al-Bashir, she said. ‘What wasn’t clear was whether that means you can still get a U.N. force or elements of a U.N. force in by June’ when the mandate for the AU force in Darfur ends, Pierce said.” The AP report was published in the Miami Herald here.

On the same day, the U.S. State Department spoke about the situation in their daily press briefing for journalists. It was, interesting, too —especially the spokesman’s remarks that there are not enough peacekeepers committed, yet, for the UN operation:

“QUESTION: Can you give us a bit more about the Plan B — Sudan, Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to get into any details. We’ve had extensive discussions within the Administration about what steps we might take if President Bashir does not follow through on his commitment to allow in all three phases of the AU/UN peacekeeping — or the AU/UN hybrid force into Darfur. Where we stand right now is that President Bashir has made a commitment in principle to allow in all three phases. The UN and AU have only gotten to the point now of really deploying the elements of phase one. I think there are about slightly more than 40 individuals who have actually been deployed into the region. They are now trying to organize phase two, which would be about 1,000 people. This would be an enabling force of headquarters elements, engineers and so forth. So they’re looking for donor countries to make the commitment to contribute forces to that phase two as well as phase three, which is the main — which would constitute the main body of the force in Darfur. So we are now at the point where the AU and the UN need to work out some of the modalities in terms of command structure and that command relationship. But more importantly, the donor — the member-states of the UN need to now make the commitments of troops to that AU/UN force so that we can see if President Bashir will act on his commitments that he has made. Should he not do so then, we have a number of different options that are available to us both as an individual country as well as an international system. And I’m not going to get into any description of what those may be at this point, but we have a number of different levers at our disposal.

QUESTION: To the extent that phase one is still pending, we are almost six weeks deep into 2007 — the number we were told the other day was at 85 were there. You say 40, alright it’s one or the other or in between. And there’s supposed to be 180 going in there. Is Bashir responsible for any of the slow movement on implementation of phase one or is this simply logistical problems that the UN faces because it’s such a remote area?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I can’t ascribe percentages for you, George. But I think this has more to do with the UN and the AU getting in place the logistics and the infrastructure that would support not only phase one and phase two, but down the road, phase three. And so that’s one bottleneck. Another bottleneck is actually having member-states pony up forces for this effort. We have heard from several countries expressions of interest that they will contribute to this force. I’m not going to get into — not going to start naming names at this point. But what we need is a few member-states to step forward, make the firm commitment that they are going to contribute substantial forces to the AU/UN force. That’s what’s needed. We haven’t seen that yet. And it is important that the international system act in this regard. We’ll be doing our part in encouraging UN member-states to make those contributions. We have demarches that have gone out to a number of capitols around the world and working — as well as working with ambassadors here in Washington. So we’re actively engaged in the effort to try to constitute this AU/UN force.

QUESTION: You said that you have a number of individual options at your disposal. Are financial options studied?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I’m not going to — I know there is an article in the newspaper today in talking about various options that were — had been approved, should we move into plan B. I’m not going to get into that. But suffice it to say, we’re taking a look at all the options that are available to us and we are going to base our decision of whether or not we move into a plan B phase on the facts on the ground. Ultimately you have to see if President Bashir acts on the principle commitment that he made. Should he not, then we’ll take a look at all those options that are available to us and choose the ones that we think might be most effective in getting to the ultimate goal and that is getting a force into Darfur so that you can provide some security, help provide security not only for the people, but the humanitarian relief organizations there so that they — those people can get what they need in order to sustain themselves and ultimately help push forward the political process, implement the Darfur Peace Agreement.

QUESTION: Andrew Natsios was in China recently. Did you get the impression that China was ready to help you on that and even on this plan B?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well they said that they have — they have said that well, with respect to plan B, I think that that’s something that we’re taking a look at. We would obviously consult with others on various elements of it. In terms of the Chinese commitment we have heard positive signals from the Chinese Government as far back as the Secretary’s discussion with Foreign Minister Li at the UN General Assembly in the fall of last year. And there have been subsequent discussions the Secretary has had, Andrew Natsios has had. So there’s a receptivity I think on the part of the Chinese to working with the international system to try to get at the humanitarian issues there to help the international community get this force deployed. I’m not saying making any contributions. I don’t think anybody’s talked about that. But help create the environment where this force can be deployed. Now, I understand President Hu recently visited Sudan. I understand that he also had a discussion with President Bashir on the topic of Darfur. I don’t have the details of that conversation. The public signals were mixed in this regard. On one hand, on the positive side, you have the Chinese Government talking in more forthright terms about the exchange between President Hu and President Bashir on the issue of Darfur and the Chinese being fairly forward-leaning on the need to have the force enter Darfur, be allowed to enter Darfur. On the other hand, you also had the announcement of a number of other economic agreements and the construction of a presidential palace, so I think that that, at best, sends some mixed signals in public. I can’t speak to what went on in private.

QUESTION: Yeah, one is words and one is actions. It looks like the actions may be speaking louder than those words he said about Darfur.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like I said, George, I don’t know. I don’t have the details of the exchange in private. But we’re going to continue working with the Chinese to see what they can do to apply any appropriate pressure to get that force in there.

QUESTION: You’re suggesting skepticism about Bashir’s willingness to go ahead with this. Can you use that word yourself?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at this point, George, I’m not going to use that word. He has sent a letter. We’ve taken at his — that — his word at face value that he is committed to all phase — implementing all three phases of the Addis agreement. Because of where we are with the — in the force generation for the AU/UN force, he has not had a real opportunity to act on the more significant aspects of that package, phases two and three. So it’s at this point, I think, premature to answer the question of whether or not he will follow through on that commitment, that principled commitment. We’ll see. In order to determine that, you need to have the forces generated to go in there, and we don’t have those yet. And that’s why it is so important that the member-states of the UN step up and answer the call for these forces.

QUESTION: Once the force is assembled, will Bashir be given some kind of set deadline that he’s going to accept them or not?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because of the timelines involved in generating the forces and the infrastructure, this doesn’t happen — this won’t happen next week. You’re not going to end up with the 15,000-plus forces and the third phase ready to go next week. So there will be some time. Necessarily there will have to be some back and forth between the AU/UN and Sudan. I can’t tell you what timeline they’re operating on. I know that the UN peacekeeping operation has a standard playbook, if you will, in terms of timelines. We think that they should look at every possible way to shorten those timelines. So we’ll see. The basic answer is we don’t know yet because we’re not there. We still have these required steps that we need to go through generating the force.”

The next day, 8 February, the Washington Post published the article mentioned in the State Department briefing. The article was written from Washington by Glenn Kessler. It was entitled “Bush Approves Plan To Pressure Sudan — Treasury Would Block Transactions“: “President Bush has approved a plan for the Treasury Department to aggressively block U.S. commercial bank transactions connected to the government of Sudan, including those involving oil revenues, if Khartoum continues to balk at efforts to bring peace to Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, government officials said yesterday.
The Treasury plan is part of a secret three-tiered package of coercive steps — labeled ‘Plan B’ — that the administration has repeatedly threatened to unleash if Sudan continues to sponsor a campaign of terror that has left as many as 450,000 dead and 2.5 million homeless. But the administration has held back on any announcement of Plan B, even after setting a Jan. 1 deadline, in hopes of still winning Khartoum’s cooperation … The U.S. plan would put pressure on Darfur rebel leaders who have refused to participate in peace talks or who have targeted humanitarian groups operating in the region, officials said. The information on Plan B was provided by officials in four government agencies on the condition of anonymity because the administration had not planned on releasing details yet. Some aspects of Plan B have already been stealthily launched, such as stationing four U.S. Army colonels last month as observers on the Sudan-Chad border in full view of Sudanese intelligence. The unannounced move was intended as a signal to Khartoum, which the administration accuses of launching a ‘quiet war’ against Chad’s government to widen the Darfur conflict … Andrew Natsios, Bush’s special envoy to Sudan, tomorrow will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration has set three triggers that would result in the enhanced sanctions: one, renewed attacks on displacement camps or driving nongovernmental organizations from Darfur; two, stonewalling peace negotiations with rebel forces; and three, refusing to implement a plan pushed by then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to expand a poorly equipped 7,000-person African Union force into a hybrid A.U.-U.N. force of 17,000 troops and 3,000 police … Buoyed by booming oil wealth and a close relationship with China, Sudan has shrugged off repeated threats of action. Bush, increasingly frustrated by the impasse, approved key aspects of the plan last month, directing Treasury to come up with a menu of options that would directly affect the government in Khartoum, officials said. Sudan’s Arab leadership has fought multiple civil wars with regional groups over the country’s oil and other resources, and U.S. officials believe Sudan’s leaders are fearful of any moves that might threaten their grip on power. Sudan’s economy is largely dollar-based, meaning many commercial transactions flow through the United States and making it especially vulnerable to Treasury actions. Indeed, U.S. intelligence, which has stepped up reporting on Sudan in recent months to prepare for a confrontation, believes Khartoum set up a government committee to explore ways of obtaining oil revenues that did not involve dollars, such as barter deals, one official said. Sudan’s government has also unsuccessfully sought new oil contracts that would provide for large upfront payments. The core of the Treasury plan rests on an executive order issued by President Bill Clinton in 1997 that blocked all Sudanese government assets, including companies connected to it, and curtailed financial dealings with Sudanese entities. Bush last year issued a second executive order that blocked the property of people connected to the conflict in Darfur. The existing orders already result in regular freezes or rejections of some Sudanese transactions, but U.S. officials believe they also give the Treasury the authority for an aggressive crackdown on a much larger group of companies connected to Sudan.
Officials hope a ripple effect of Treasury’s actions would extend to other countries and companies doing business with Sudan, forcing them to reconsider whether they want to be tainted or, more troubling, subjected to Treasury’s scrutiny. ‘Anything that is controlled by the government we can go after’, a senior administration official said. ‘But the effectiveness will be driven by the participation of our partners’, meaning other countries. Sudan produces about 500,000 barrels of oil a year, which at current market rates is worth about $10 billion. As much as 200,000 barrels are kept for internal consumption, Morrison said, with about 75 percent of the rest sold to China. Partly because some aspects of the plan are still classified, administration officials yesterday were vague about how the plan would cripple Sudan’s oil revenues. One official said Treasury will ‘have the ability to touch things that touch oil revenues’. The regional government of South Sudan, created through a peace deal two years ago, is supposed to get 50 percent of oil revenues. Officials said they think they had designed the plan so it would harm Khartoum but without impacting the government in the south.

On the afternoon of 7 February, the Associated Press reported from Khartoum that “Sudan dismissed U.N. criticism of President Omar al-Bashir’s failure to approve a joint U.N.-African Union force for conflict-torn Darfur, insisting Wednesday that only ‘minor details’ stand in the way of an agreement … Al-Bashir has rejected a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for 22,000 U.N. peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed African Union force in Darfur. He has sent mixed signals about a joint U.N.-AU force. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Sadiq said Sudan has agreed to a three-phase package culminating in the deployment of the joint force. He said there is full agreement on the first two phases, which call for the U.N. to provide, gear, funds and a few hundred advisers to reinforce the 7,000 AU peacekeepers. All parties have also agreed that a group of experts would then decide how many U.N. troops should deploy for the full-fledged joint mission, he said, adding that Sudan would accept whatever number is decided upon. ‘Even if they are 20,000 troops, we have no problem with that, as long as they are mainly African troops with U.N. expertise’, Sadiq said. ‘Our position is clear regarding the hybrid mission, there are no ambiguities on the force and only minor details need to be finalized’, he said. Last week, Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol said Sudan was fully cooperating with the international community over Darfur … But Tuesday, Al-Bashir told trade unionists that Sudan could ‘solve its own problems without foreign intervention’, the official SUNA news agency reported. Earlier in the week, he insisted, ‘We will not allow U.N. forces into Sudan’. However, some 10,000 U.N. troops are already in southern Sudan enforcing a peace deal in a separate conflict, and observers say al-Bashir’s statements could be mainly for domestic politics.”

The Agence France Presse (AFP) news agence reported from the UN in Geneva on Friday — where the Human Rights Council’s “team” held a press conference before leaving for Africa, but Sudan’s Ambassador cancelled a counter-press conference — that “The United Nations assessment mission to the strife-torn Sudanese region of Darfur is still awaiting visas from Khartoum one day before its departure, the mission’s head has said. Jody Williams, the 1997 Nobel peace prize winner, told journalists Friday she ‘fully expects’ the visas to be granted while the UN Human Rights Council mission meets with African Union officials in Addis Ababa this weekend. ‘We are still in negotiations on the visas which we fully expect to get when we’re in Addis’, she told journalists. ‘I fully anticipate that the Sudanese government will recognise that it has agreed to this resolution and that it is in its interests to have this mission there’, Williams said. The mission plans to spend a day and a half in the Sudanese capital Khartoum before heading to Darfur, where it will carry out its assessment of the human rights situation until February 21. Williams acknowledged the scale of the task ahead and the inevitable limitations the mission would face. ‘It would be patently absurd to think that this mission could do a full range analysis of the situation on the ground and human rights as they stand at the moment, in the time available’, she said. The assessment mission was set up last December after a fractious debate between western powers, and Khartoum’s African and developing country allies in the Council. After opposing western calls for a probe, African nations led by Algeria had sought a mission exclusively composed of Council diplomats, prompting a renewed clash with US and European countries over its independence.”;

A short time after that report, AFP put out a second story, pouring scepticism over the “team’s” composition and potential: “A UN human rights mission which is due to travel to Sudan’s strife-torn region of Darfur faces the conflicting tasks of proving its credibility and convincing Khartoum to lift any barriers, diplomats said here. The assessment mission was set up by the 47-nation United Nations Human Rights Council in December after a tussle between western powers, and Khartoum’s African and developing country allies in the Council. Officials said the mission hoped to travel to Sudan on Saturday. However, a diplomat from the European Union cast doubt on the mission’s chances. ‘Today we have no assurance that the mission would be accepted by Sudanese authorities’, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity … The Council’s chairman, Mexican ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, said he had tried to placate critics on both sides of the fence by appointing a combination of activists and diplomats to carry out the probe. The mission includes the outspoken former Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-landmines campaigner Jody Williams, a former UN deputy human rights chief, Bertrand Ramcharan, and the UN rights expert on Sudan, Sima Samar, who has been critical of Khartoum’s role. Another member is Estonian parliamentarian Mart Nutt, who has taken part in Council of European human rights missions, while the diplomats are represented by Gabon’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Patrice Tonda, and his Indonesian counterpart Marakim Wibisono. However, the decision to include diplomats from developing nations has annoyed western countries, who fear they might water down the independence of the mission.
The French ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said he was ‘surprised and disappointed’ by their inclusion. Ripert said the choice indicated that the UN’s top human rights assembly was still mired in its geopolitical rifts. Meanwhile, diplomats said Sudanese authorities felt uncomfortable with Williams’ and Ramcharan’s presence and raised the possibility that their access might be restricted. De Alba told AFP that the crossfire over the composition of the mission suggested that he had managed to strike a decent balance, and underlined Williams’s ‘uncontested moral authority’ at the head of the group.
‘This mission is not just about investigating the facts, but it also has a duty to build bridges between all the actors involved in the conflict,’ de Alba explained. ‘It must identify concrete action and contribute suggestions that will help bring about a solution’, he added.
UN monitors in Darfur are already reporting back about violations and attacks on civilians to High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. Sebastien Gillioz, of the campaign group Human Rights Watch, said the mission could add political weight to evidence of violations.
‘The African Group has praised the peace agreement (signed by Khartoum) which so far is getting nowhere on human rights protection’, he said. However, even if the mission meets the best expectations, the UN Human Rights Council will have the final word on the impact of its findings. ‘They can come back with the best ever report, but the dynamics of the Council are such that it can be watered down’, Gillioz remarked.

Meanwhile, ReformtheUN (a part of the World Federalist Organization) sent around earlier
a useful note on the background to the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to send this “team”:
“The Council convened its Fourth Special Session on 12-13 December to address the human rights situation in Darfur. The decision to hold a Special Session on Darfur was requested by 33 member states (a special session of the Human Rights Council is required if one-third of the 47 council members, or 16 countries, request it), including Algeria, Cuba, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Mauritius, Nigeria, Peru, Uruguay and Zambia. In that Session, the Human Rights Council decided by consensus to express its concern regarding the violations of human rights and the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in Darfur. Members of the Council concluded their decision after hearing several presentations from NGOs reporting on the grave situation in Darfur. It was also decided to send a high-level mission to assess the human rights situation in the region. The mission is supposed to present their findings at the Council’s Fourth (regular) Session next month in Geneva. [12 March to 5 April 2007] On 26 January, more than a month after Special Session, a group of five ‘highly qualified persons’ were appointed by the Council’s President, Mexican ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, to lead the fact-finding mission. The group consists of Mart Nutt (Estonia), Bertrand Ramcharan (former Acting and Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), Patrice Tonda (Gabon) and Indonesian ambassador to the UN Marakim Wibisono, and it will be led by 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-founder of the Nobel Woman’s Initiative, Jody Williams. The decision in December was seen by many as a positive step for the Council, which had been criticized for its previous Special Sessions and resulting declarations on human rights violations by Israel. The Darfur discussion alleviated some impressions of politicization of and imbalance on the Council. Darfur also seems to be a priority for new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, most recently stressed in an UN press conference on 11 January.” Latest Development, Issue # 172 — Human Rights Council and NGOs Prepare for Fourth Session, Update on Darfur Mission

Human Rights Council in Geneva adopts compromise resolution on Darfur

At the end of a special meeting in Geneva on the situation in Darfur, the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council agreed unanimously on a resolution that expressed “concern” about the human rights and humanitarian situation in Darfur.  The Human Rights Council authorized the creation of a team of five “highly qualified persons” — who will be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council — plus the U.N.’s expert on rights in Sudan, Sima Samar; the team will travel to Darfur.

The resolution welcomes the Sudanese Government’s cooperation with Ms. Samar and calls on Khartoum to continue and intensify its working relationship with the Human Rights Council and with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.

According to information from the UN News Centre and from the Spokesman, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported from that the Tripartite Mechanism, which comprises representatives of UNMIS, the African Union and the Sudanese Government, held its first meeting today in Khartoum. They were discussing how to implement the $21 million UN support package to AMIS, the first part of a three-phase process that is expected to eventually culminate in a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur.  Under the “light support package” agreed upon last month, UNMIS will provide 105 military advisers, 33 police officers and 48 civilian staff, as well as equipment.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) also issued a press release condemning, in the strongest possible terms, this weekend”s hijacking of a vehicle belonging to the African Union force in Darfur with two AMIS military personnel on board and demanded their immediate release.  In their press release, the Mission reiterated that all AMIS military personnel are in the Sudan as part of a peacekeeping mission to bring peace to the war-weary people of Darfur, and their presence is crucial to restoring order and stability to a critically important part of Sudan and to allow Darfuris to return to their homes.  Meanwhile, UNMIS reported, there has been a spate of armed hijacking of vehicles in west Darfur, including vehicles belonging to the aid community.

The Mission also reported indications that there have been skirmishes between armed Chadian opposition groups and Sudanese Arab militias south of El Fasher in North Darfur.

Dueling draft resolutions on Darfur

Urged on by the SG (who thought, as the U.S. and Israel do, that Israel was getting too much attention and criticism from the new UN Human Rights Council in Geneva because of its mistreatment of Palestinians), the Council obediently convened a fourth Special Session, on the human rights situation in Darfur.

Kofi Annan sent a video-taped message to today’s meeting (there are six hours’ time difference, after all, and he can’t be expected to wake up in the middle of the night in New York to address a meeting in Geneva), in which he observed that for more than three years now, the people of Darfur had “endured a nightmare”, and that it was nearly two years since an International Commission of Inquiry had submitted its report with shocking findings.

So, apparently it seems a good idea to send another Commission of Inquiry.  Annan wrote: “I urge you to lose no time in sending a team of independent and universally respected experts to investigate the latest escalation of abuses … It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations, including by bringing to account those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed. That is the very least you can do to show the people of Darfur that their cries for help are being heard”.

At a regular bi-weekly briefing for journalists at the UN Office in Geneva (UNOG), Jose Luis Diaz of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) drew attention to the High Commissioner’s statement to the Special Session this morning in which she had said that “victims and other vulnerable civilians are entitled to expect from you [the Human Rights Council] a credible response”.

Mr. Diaz told journalists that two [competing] draft resolutions had been submitted to the Council — the first, submitted by Finland, who had convened the Special Session, called for sending an urgent assessment mission to Darfur headed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan. The mission would be requested to report to the Council at its next session early next year.  Mr. Diaz explained that the second draft resolution, submitted by the African Group, also called for the Council to dispatch a mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, but this mission would be headed by the President of the Council and would include the members of the Bureau and the regional group coordinators members of the Council. That mission would also report back to the Council at its next session.

The Special Session was to continue into Wednesday.

Meanwhile, at UNHQ/NY, the UN Spokesman told journalists that “In the context of the follow up of the implementation of the UN light support package to the African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS), the Tripartite Mechanism composed of representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Sudan will hold its first meeting tomorrow.  The Tripartite Mechanism aims at ensuring a more transparent, systematic, and efficient provision of UN support to AMIS. During tomorrow’s meeting, UNMIS will present a list of equipment and personnel ready to be deployed in support of AMIS.  Insecurity continues to prevail in many parts in Darfur.  For instance in West Darfur, a vehicle donated by a UN agency to the local ministry of health to assist in mobile vaccination and immunization of infants and children was hijacked alongside with the driver outside of a camp housing displaced persons. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency reports that the voluntary return of Sudanese refugees to south Sudan is set to gather new momentum this week with the scheduled re-launch of return convoys from Ethiopia starting tomorrow (Wednesday), and from Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday.

That’s the way the UN talks.