Refugees from Darfur in Chad (file photo)
Reflecting on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, leading UN member states have vowed to act to prevent the recurrence of genocide. But they face an immediate challenge in Sudan's Darfur region, where UN experts have raised alarm about atrocities and the mass abuse of human rights for more than a year. An international commission is due to report today on whether or not genocide is occurring in Darfur. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a speech about Auschwitz, called on the UN Security Council to be ready to respond to the commission's findings.
United Nations, 25 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- "Never again" was the refrain at a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly session commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz.
But speakers at the session expressed dismay at the world's failure to stop the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the Balkans during the last quarter of the 20th century.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also used the assembly's first-ever commemoration of the Holocaust to remind countries of the current humanitarian disaster in Sudan's western Darfur region. Annan said an international commission of inquiry, requested by the UN Security Council, is due to report to him today on the extent of the abuses. He urged the Security Council to be prepared to act.
"That report will determine whether or not acts of genocide have occurred in Darfur. But also, and no less important, it will identify the gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights which undoubtedly have occurred," Annan said.
Darfur has been embroiled in violence for nearly two years, after two rebel groups began an armed resistance against the government in a clash over resources.
Since then, Arab militias known as Janjaweed have retaliated by rampaging through the area. Tens of thousands of civilians have died and nearly 2 million have been displaced since the fighting began. The Sudanese government denies links to the Janjaweed, but there have been numerous reports that the militia is equipped by Khartoum.
The UN Security Council is divided over a course of action to bring an end to the abuses. There is a growing debate over whether it should refer cases of major abusers to the new International Criminal Court, which the United States strongly opposes.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters at UN headquarters today that "terrible things" have been done to Darfur's civilians. But he stressed that any solution should involve engagement with the Sudanese government. "It's my conviction that we won't solve this dramatic situation without the Sudan or against the Sudan but with the Sudan, and that is the aim of the mediating efforts that have been carried out in the United Nations and particularly by the African Union," Barnier said.
Aside from the UN secretary-general, few speakers mentioned the Darfur tragedy by name during the Auschwitz session.
But Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian made a strong appeal to the international community to do more to track down the perpetrators of atrocities in Darfur. "Recognizing the victims and acknowledging them is also to recognize that there are perpetrators, but this is absolutely not the same as to name them, shame them, to dissuade them, to isolate them and to punish them," he said.
Oskanian said that, based on its own experience, Armenia has a special understanding of the trauma caused by genocide and international indifference. Armenia says 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923 in a genocidal campaign. Turkey denies genocide occurred.