updated 5/4/2004 1:06:45 PM ET 2004-05-04T17:06:45

The United States walked out of a U.N. meeting Tuesday to protest a decision minutes later to give Sudan a third term on the Human Rights Commission, the world body’s human rights watchdog.

U.S. Ambassador Sichan Siv called the vote an “absurdity” and accused Sudan of massive human rights violations and “ethnic cleansing” in the western Darfur region before getting up from his chair and walking out of the Economic and Social Council chamber.

As he was leaving, Sudan’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Omar Bashir Manis launched into a heated response, accusing American forces of engaging in degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners and committing “atrocities” against innocent Iraqi civilians.

But the United States’ seat in the chamber was empty, and no American diplomat was there to hear it.

African slate uncontested
Finland’s U.N. Ambassador Marjatta Rasi, the president of the 53-nation Economic and Social Council, then noted that the slate of candidates from Africa was uncontested, and it was approved by consensus as she banged her gavel.

Under U.N. rules, regional groups decide which countries are nominated to fill seats on U.N. bodies.

The African group waited until late last week to present its list of candidates for four seats. It presented four names, guaranteeing election for Kenya, Sudan, Guinea and Togo.

The United States scrambled to get another African nation to apply in an effort to make it a contested race and unseat Sudan. But with so little time it was unsuccessful, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Siv, the U.S. ambassador to the economic council, said the United States was “perplexed and dismayed” by the African group’s decision to nominate Sudan, a country that he said “massacres its own African citizens.”

He noted that at last month’s Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva, members expressed concern about Darfur even though they blocked a stronger U.S. resolution that would have condemned the Khartoum government.

“The least we should be able to do is to not elect a country to the global body charged specifically with protecting human rights, at the precise time when tens of thousands of its citizens are being murdered or left to die of starvation,” Siv said.

U.S. accuses Sudan of ‘ethnic cleansing’
“Consider the ramifications of standing by and allowing the commission to become a safe-haven for the world’s worst human rights violators, especially one engaged in ‘ethnic cleansing’,” he said.

Manis countered that Sudan has acknowledged the humanitarian problem in Darfur, noting the government’s call for international help and the recent visit by two U.N. teams.

“It is yet very ironic that the United States delegation, while shedding crocodile tears over the situation in Darfur ... is turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the American forces against the innocent civilian population in Iraq, including women and children,” he said.

Manis also cited “the brutal attacks against innocent civilians in Fallujah, where for the first time in our lives we saw live reporting of mass graves — women, children and elderly and other innocent civilians buried in a football stadium” and the “infamous and degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison.”

So Sudan’s seat on the Human Rights Commission “is not at all different” from the U.S. presence, Manis said.

Sudan was one of 14 new members elected to the 53-member commission by the economic council.

Three other African countries — Kenya, Guinea and Togo — were also elected by consensus to represent Africa. Armenia and Romania representing Eastern Europe and Ecuador and Mexico representing Latin America also faced no opposition.

Two races contested
In the contested race among Western nations, Canada, Finland and France won seats, defeating Spain. And in the contested Asian race, Malaysia, Pakistan and South Korea defeated Vietnam.

A coalition of 10 organizations concerned with human rights issues complained Monday that too few democracies are being nominated for seats on the commission.

It said among the four African countries, only Kenya was a democracy and both Pakistan and Vietnam had serious human rights problems.

Last year, the United States also walked out to protest Cuba’s re-election to the Human Rights Commission, which it called “an outrage.” Russia, Saudi Arabia and several African countries with poor human rights records also won seats, and Libya chaired the commission in 2003.

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