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UN panel urges Security Council to act on Darfur

Says major nations not doing enough

GENEVA -- A UN human rights team criticized the international community yesterday for failing to halt atrocities in Darfur, saying in a sharply worded report that the United Nations must act now to protect civilians from a campaign of violence orchestrated by Sudan's government.

The panel, headed by Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams, departed from the usual diplomatic niceties of UN reports to accuse major nations of letting Sudan obstruct efforts to quell ethnic fighting that has killed 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million in four years.

The report urged quick intervention by the UN Security Council, the imposition of sanctions, and criminal prosecutions of those responsible for atrocities and other abuses.

"Killing of civilians remains widespread, including in large-scale attacks. Rape and sexual violence are widespread and systematic. Torture continues," it said, adding that rebel groups were behind some abuses but attributing most crimes to the government and its allies.

Members of Sudan's delegation at the UN Human Rights Council meeting declined to comment, saying they would not discuss the report until after addressing the body today. Sudanese leaders have denied encouraging violence in Darfur, an arid region with long conflicts over water and arable land.

There was no immediate reaction from other nations, but the team's findings already drew harsh objections behind the scenes from Sudan's allies on the rights council, chiefly members of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

It also isn't clear how the Security Council will respond to the team's call for urgent action, including travel bans and asset freezes for those accused of rights violations.

Sanctions have not been imposed because the veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council were divided, said Jan Pronk, who was chief UN envoy to Sudan until last year. China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and Russia has commercial interests in Sudan.

Rights groups have called for the international community to do more to halt the bloodshed, but it is unusual for a UN-supported group to be so direct in its criticisms and calls for action.

The team's report said that while important steps had been taken, including by the African Union and the United Nations, "these have been largely resisted and obstructed, and have proven inadequate and ineffective."

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