October 22, 2005 8:20 PM
By Opheera McDoom
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan arbitrarily arrests and tortures civilians and has failed to try those responsible for crimes committed during a 2-1/2-year revolt in its Darfur region, a senior U.N. rights official said on Saturday.
Sima Samar, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan, said there was a culture of impunity for those who raped women, especially in Darfur, and that the government's excuses for inaction were not acceptable.
"Gender-based violence continues unfortunately with impunity," she told reporters after a week-long trip to Sudan.
"The government acknowledges the existence of sexual violence but contests the magnitude of the problem," she added.
She said emergency laws in force in Darfur in western Sudan and in the east were also being applied in the capital Khartoum.
"People are arbitrarily arrested and held incommunicado," she said at U.N. headquarters in Khartoum.
"Detention by security forces, torture, ill-treatment and killing of civilians continues," Samar said, singling out mistreatment of people internally displaced by conflicts.
The government admits there are problems with its security forces but says it investigates all rights violations.
Sudanese officials were not immediately available to comment on Samar's accusations.
WAR CRIMES COURT
Sudan wants U.S. economic sanctions, imposed since 1997, to be lifted. But U.S. officials say the rights situation in Darfur must improve first.
The United States has called the Darfur violence genocide and blamed Khartoum and its allied militia, a charge the authorities deny.
Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million forced from their homes by the fighting and a widespread campaign of rape, killing and burning in non-Arab villages since the Darfur revolt began in early 2003.
Samar, a Muslim from Afghanistan, said a special national court for war crimes in Darfur had tackled too few cases and had not dealt with crimes committed during the conflict, focussing rather on random looting incidents.
"Unfortunately it was not really the crimes committed during the war in Darfur," she said, adding the court's chief justice had said that of 72,000 complaints filed in Darfur, it had tried only three cases.
The government says the national court will be a substitute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is investigating alleged war crimes in Darfur. But investigators have yet to be granted permission to visit Sudan.
"Unfortunately the minister of justice clearly said that they are not going to cooperate with the ICC," Samar said.
Samar, who visited Darfur and southern Sudan as well as prison facilities in Khartoum, said the security forces appeared to act above the law, and gave the example of the recent arrest and torture of students who were demonstrating peacefully in Khartoum.
"The detention and torture of students ... is an indication that the national security continues to function above the law and without any accountability," she said.