"The war in Iraq has sidetracked everyone away from Sudan, the place of the worst human rights nightmare on the planet. Taking advantage of this situation, the Khartoum regime has stepped up its genocidal warfare against its own people," said Dr. Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group.
"Saddam has been responsible for the deaths of a great many of his own countrymen, especially non-Arabic Kurds. But whatever the numbers may be, it is dwarfed by the numbers in Sudan: over 2 million have been killed in the war, overwhelmingly non-Arabic civilians in the south," says Sudan expert, Dr. Eric Reeves of Smith College.
Reeves says that while many people have been displaced at various times in Iraq, Sudan has the world's greatest population of Internally Displaced Persons estimated at over 4 million.
But NY State Comptroller Alan Hevesi believes the war in Iraq will actually help human rights efforts in other countries. "Getting rid of Saddam Hussein will help bring human rights to Iraq. The more countries in which human rights are established, the stronger the fight for human rights everywhere else," Hevesi said. Reeves believes that one of the reasons why the responses to the regimes in Baghdad and Khartoum have been different is because of what he calls a "travesty in Geneva," which is Libya chairing this session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Reeves notes Libya has been helped by the European Union (EU), and France in particular, a country with oil concerns in Sudan.
Nina Shea of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, met with the French Embassy in DC this week, along with a delegation of human rights groups. "We delivered a message that Americans care deeply about Sudan and that France should know it would further damage Franco-American relations if it upgraded Sudan's human rights status at the U.N.," Shea said. "Conversely, it could help bridge damaged Franco-American relations by standing shoulder to shoulder with Colin Powell at that Commission."
The U.N. Human Rights Commission is considering whether or not to renew a mandate of the Special Rapporteur, who annually reports on the status of human rights in Sudan. "We asserted that if France's position on Iraq was a principled one against the war, it should work all the harder to use the peaceful mechanism of the U.N. Special Rapporteur to advance human rights, Shea said.
During a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission Wednesday, France joined in a vote with the U.S. to defeat Syria's effort to turn the Commission into a session on alleged U.S. war crimes in Iraq.
Maria Sliwa is a graduate student of journalism at New York University.