updated 7/27/2007 11:14:58 PM ET 2007-07-28T03:14:58

A U.N. human rights panel condemned widespread abuses in Sudan on Friday and demanded assurances militias engaged in ethnic cleansing would receive no financial or material support from the government.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, in its first overall review of Sudan’s record in a decade, said murder, rape, forced evictions and attacks against civilians were systematic throughout the country.

Rights violations “continue to be committed with total impunity throughout Sudan and particularly in Darfur,” the panel said.

A four-year conflict between African rebels and government forces has killed 200,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million in Darfur, Sudan’s vast western region. The government has been accused of unleashing Arab militias known as the janjaweed, which are blamed for the worst atrocities in Darfur, including rapes and indiscriminate killings. The U.S. has called the killings genocide, a charge Sudan’s government denies.

Sudan needs to “ensure that no financial support or material is channeled to militias that engage in ethnic cleansing or the deliberate targeting of civilians,” the U.N. committee said, though it did not specify whether that referred to Darfur.

The panel consists of 18 independent experts and is separate from the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council. It takes turns examining the performance of each of the 156 countries that are parties to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“More or less covert assistance has been given to elements that have been pursuing gross violations of human rights” in Darfur, said Ivan Shearer, an Australian member of the committee.

Women afraid to report crimes
The report noted that Sudanese police, armed forces and national security forces are immune from prosecution under Sudanese law. In discussions with the U.N. panel, the Sudanese government could only provide a few examples of “serious crimes” that have been prosecuted, whether by criminal tribunals or courts set up specifically to investigate violations in Darfur, it said.

The panel based its conclusions and recommendations on information from Sudan and the reports of other U.N. bodies and numerous rights groups.

It said there continue to be “many cases of rape in Darfur,” though official numbers are low because women fear their claims will be associated with the crime of adultery.

“Women do not trust the police,” the report said.

Female genital mutilation, which the World Health Organization has called a form of torture, is practiced in Sudan, the panel said. It said Sudan has made efforts to end and criminalize the practice but “this assault on human dignity” persists.

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