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UN: Controversy Brewing Over Sudan Candidacy For Security Council

  • Robert McMahon

The annual elections for non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council this year are marred by a controversy over the candidacy of Sudan. The United States and human rights groups are pressing a campaign to reject Sudan, claiming its record disqualifies it for membership on the powerful body. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 9 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A rare impasse is looming as the UN General Assembly prepares to vote tomorrow (Oct. 10) on candidates for five non-permanent seats on the Security Council.

The United States says Sudan is not eligible because it is under UN sanctions, it remains on the U.S. list of "state sponsors of terrorism" and its air force has endangered UN relief planes when bombing airfields in the south of the country. Several human rights groups have joined the opposition to Sudan, pointing to abusive policies they say have been carried out during its long civil war.

Sudan's ambassador to the UN, Elfatih Mohamed Ahmed Erwa, rejects the charges and calls the U.S. campaign against his country unfair. He tells RFE/RL that Sudan's critics are ignoring developments in the country such as political reform and improvements in relations with other African states. He says the African regional group at the UN that is endorsing Sudan is more aware of the situation there.

"These (charges) are mere propaganda because Africans, when they chose Sudan, they know exactly what is happening in Sudan so they don't wait for these NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to come and teach them."

Among the non-governmental organizations opposing a Sudanese seat on the council is Freedom House. Its president, Adrian Karatnycky, tells RFE/RL that Sudan's abuses during its civil war -- which include bombing civilians, schools, refugee centers, and hospitals -- disqualify it from membership on the council.

Karatnycky says the Security Council has already witnessed what can go wrong when a poor choice is made for the council. Rwanda was on the council in 1994 at a time genocide was occurring in the country. Its denial of the genocide, Karatnycky says, hampered the council's ability to act.

He said there have been other nations with poor human rights records on the council, namely the Soviet Union and China, but the case of Sudan is much different.

"This is an optional matter and this is not a matter that had to be adjudicated during the Cold War when necessary compromises had to be made to build a world body. In this case and given the record of Rwanda, it's just unacceptable."

The United States has promoted an alternate candidate from Africa -- Mauritius -- in the hope that member states will opt to vote against a Sudanese council seat.

But diplomats and UN observers say the U.S. campaign has only stiffened the resolve of many developing nations who resent the U.S. pressure.

Jeffrey Laurenti is an analyst at the United Nations Association of the United States of America, a foreign policy think-tank. He notes the lingering hard feelings after the United States' bombing of Sudanese facilities it claimed were used to support the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa two years ago.

"I think you have some countries, especially in the region, and maybe elsewhere in the developing world, that view a vote for Sudan as evening the score for the Americans bombing their pharmaceutical plant."

Candidates must receive a vote of at least two-thirds from the 189-member General Assembly to be named on the council. Laurenti says only two other cases in the past 20 years -- Cuba and Libya -- have generated such controversy. In both cases, the countries withdrew after compromise candidates were found.

The other four Security Council seats up for a vote are much less controversial. Singapore is the consensus choice of the Asian regional group and Costa Rica is the choice of the Latin American group.

Three countries have been nominated to fill the two seats open for the West European group -- Ireland, Italy, and Norway. A vote for Italy and Norway would ensure that two NATO countries replace the two departing NATO countries: Canada and the Netherlands. But Italy served on the council five years ago, while it has been much longer since Ireland and Norway were represented there.

The departure of Canada and the Netherlands means the loss of two effective council members. Canada headed the campaign to prohibit the trafficking in so-called "conflict diamonds" from Africa and in investigating countries that violated sanctions regimes against Angola and Sierra Leone. Those investigations have pointed to small arms traders in Eastern Europe.

The Dutch ambassador has served as chairman of the Iraqi sanctions committee. That position has grown in importance as international pressure has increased for humanitarian aid to be supplied to Iraq.

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