Annan sees few human rights gains

Times Staff Writer

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave a sober assessment Friday of his own shortcomings as he prepared to leave office at the end of the year, and accused the United States of violating human rights in its war on terror.

He also warned Sudan's leaders that they would be held accountable if they didn't halt the violence in Darfur, and urged countries with commercial interests in Sudan to pressure the government in Khartoum.

In an address to mark Human Rights Day, which is Sunday, Annan talked about whether the United Nations had become an effective defender of human rights during his decade as secretary-general.

"I'm not sure how far I have succeeded," he said. "To judge by what is happening in Darfur, our performance has not improved much since the disasters of Bosnia and Rwanda," Annan said.

"Sixty years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, and 30 years after the Cambodian killing fields, the promise of 'never again' is ringing hollow," he said to an audience of about 500 people invited by Human Rights Watch.

He suggested several ways to improve, starting with living up to an agreement signed by world leaders last year that the world had the "responsibility to protect" people from crimes against humanity, even those perpetrated by their own government.

Darfur, the western region of Sudan, where about 2.5 million people have been displaced and more than 200,000 have died in three years of conflict, is a test case. But countries have not showed enough will to give up commercial interests in the oil-rich country or to overrule its obstinate government, he said.

"There is more than enough blame to go around," he said, referring to China's and Russia's reluctance to impose sanctions, his own impotence and Khartoum's intransigence.

Annan recently pushed Sudan's President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force to protect civilians in Darfur, but Bashir would accept only a U.N.-funded African Union force. Sudan's leaders say that U.N. soldiers are a spearhead for imperialist powers that want to shatter Sudan and arrest its leaders.

Annan warned that if the Sudanese government did not protect its own people or allow international peacekeepers to do it, "then the government will have to be held accountable, both collectively and individually." The International Criminal Court is expected to announce arrest warrants this month for leaders of systematic killings of civilians.

Annan also sharply criticized the United States, without explicitly naming it, for detaining terrorism suspects in secret prisons and thus undermining its moral authority.

Nations cannot protect people from terrorism by "themselves violating human rights in the process."

"To do so means abandoning the moral high ground and playing into the hands of terrorists," he said. "That is why secret prisons have no place in our struggle against terrorism."

During his leadership of the U.N., Annan has rarely clashed publicly with the United States. But he drew Washington's wrath by calling the Iraq invasion illegal, urging the U.S. to try to co-opt insurgents rather than alienate them, and refusing to significantly commit U.N. agencies to help rebuild Iraq because of security concerns.

On Friday, he said that it was time for a new strategy on Iraq, and that the U.N. could organize a reconstruction conference for Iraq as it did after the Balkan wars and the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Iraq Study Group interviewed him for the report it released Wednesday, and Annan revealed that the panelists had asked him whether he would lead such a conference.

He said he would leave that question up to Ban Ki-moon, who replaces him Jan. 1 as secretary-general.

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