updated 12/12/2006 2:12:33 PM ET 2006-12-12T19:12:33

United Nations chief Kofi Annan demanded on Tuesday that the world body’s human rights watchdog, meeting in special session on Sudan’s Darfur, send a clear message that the “nightmare” of violence there had to stop.

“The people in Darfur cannot afford to wait another day. The violence must stop. The killings and other gross violations of human rights must end,” Annan said in a statement to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

The Council, launched last June in a plan to make the U.N. more effective, must decide on what kind of mission of inquiry to send to the troubled western region of Africa’s largest state where aid officials say more than 200,000 people have died in three years of violence.

Test for the new body
It is seen as a credibility test for the new body which has been accused of focusing too much on the Middle East and ignoring what the U.N. has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Urging the 47-state body to send a team of “independent and universally respected experts,” Annan said the Council must show Darfur’s people that “their cries for help are being heard” because the situation there was worsening.

“It is essential that the Council [issue] a clear and united message ... that the current situation is simply unacceptable,” said Annan, who steps down as Secretary-General at the end of 2006.

Khartoum says Darfur, where long-simmering ethnic violence erupted into war in 2003, has improved since a peace treaty earlier this year with one leading rebel group.

It disputes the death toll in the region, where over 2 million have been driven from their homes, and pins the blame for violations on rebel groups that are still fighting.

Sudan’s representative at the Council session, Farah Mustafa, accused Western media of distorting the picture. “It has been repeating lies, day after day,” he said.

However, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, echoing Annan’s warnings, said that civilians continued to be the target of deliberate and “devastatingly brutal” attacks in what was an “unrelenting tragedy.”

Mass rape
She said in a speech that evidence compiled by her office since 2004 pointed to a systematic failure to protect civilians, prevent violence and bring those responsible to justice.

Sudan denies arming the so-called Janjaweed militia blamed by Arbour and others for some of the worst offences.

“If we have not seen the genocide process, we are very close to that,” European Union special representative for Sudan Pekka Haavisto told a workshop on the margin of the Council session.

European officials said that the Council debate, which would continue on Wednesday, was part of a diplomatic drive to get the Sudan government to accept U.N. reinforcements for African Union troops who are trying to police a region the size of France.

But Sudan’s representative said the aim of those calling for a mission of experts was not to protect human rights but to ”undermine the dignity and sovereignty of a poor state.”

While accepting a mission, the African group on the Council wants it to be composed of diplomats from the Geneva-based body, who the Europeans say lack the expertise for an effective probe.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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