As ridiculous as it seems, last week Sudan was actually on track for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). The Sudanese government, led Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and other crimes, continues to commit atrocities against civilians in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile States as well as the Darfur region.

Fortunately, the outcry from activists and members of the international community seems to have provided the necessary pressure to encourage Sudan to withdraw its bid.

First, Kenya indicated that it would join the running for one of the five seats on the HRC reserved for the Africa group, which had previously been uncontested. (The other candidates are Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.) Then, as reported last week, Sudan informed the African Union that it “is no longer interested in taking up one of the vacancies available.”

However, the victory may not be complete. The question remains as to what Sudan may have received in return for the decision to withdraw its candidacy. HRC watchers believe that Sudan may have run for the seat in order to negotiate support for a weakened mandate for the special rapporteur — a position appointed by the UN HRC to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Sudan. The last gathering of the HRC resulted in a mandate changes, which allowed the Sudanese government to place restrictions on the rapporteur’s travel and the people with whom he could speak.

The United States and other countries have indicated their intention to insist on a stronger mandate for the rapporteur that includes access to all regions of the country and for interviews beyond those pre-selected by government officials. That battle will play out over the next three weeks as the HRC begins its next session on Monday, September 10 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The egregious specter of a genocidal regime sitting on the UN Human Rights Council has been averted, but the damage to the pursuit of human rights in Sudan from this saga may not be done.


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