UNITED NATIONS - The 15-member U.N. Security Council, which has shown a reluctance to penalize those accused of war crimes in conflict-ridden Darfur in Sudan, unanimously adopted a resolution Friday to protect civilians in armed conflicts.
The resolution, which condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians, was a follow-up to an agreement reached by over 150 world leaders at last September's U.N. summit in New York.
The international charity Oxfam described the resolution as "historic", pointing out that if it is implemented effectively, "it should save countless lives".
Asked if the resolution will remain effective only on paper -- considering the fact that the Security Council has failed to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur -- Nicola Reindorp, head of Oxfam International's New York Office, told IPS: "Time will tell."
As with all Security Council resolutions, she pointed out, "This resolution will only protect people if U.N. member states turn their words into actions."
Ann-Louise Colgan, director for policy analysis and communications at the Washington-based Africa Action, said Friday's resolution affirming the international responsibility to protect civilians from genocide and other such crimes "marks an important commitment to stand up for vulnerable people in conflict situations around the world".
"But this principle must be put into practice in Darfur, Sudan, if it is to have real credibility and impact," Colgan told IPS.
As crimes against humanity continue to be perpetrated against the people of Darfur, the international community must assert its responsibility to protect these people and must deploy a U.N. peacekeeping force to the region as soon as possible, she added.
"The measure of (Friday's) Security Council resolution on genocide will be the Security Council's next steps in addressing the crisis in Darfur," Colgan said.
But the Council has so far been slow to take action -- primarily because of resistance by two veto-wielding permanent members, namely Russia and China, who claim they do not want to jeopardize the current peace negotiations.
On Tuesday, the Security Council adopted a resolution placing four Sudanese individuals involved in the armed conflict on a sanctions list and imposed an international travel ban on them and froze their assets overseas.
Three members of the Security Council -- China, Russia, and Qatar -- abstained on the ground that imposing sanctions might interfere with the African Union (AU) peace negotiations in Nigeria.
The adoption of Friday's resolution on civilian protection coincides with a new military offensive by the Sudanese government in south Darfur that is placing civilians at grave risk, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a statement issued Friday, HRW said that the Apr. 24 attack on a village in rebel-controlled territory involved Antonov aircraft and helicopter gunships. The aircraft were used indiscriminately in violation of the laws of war, and displaced thousands of civilians who had sought safety there.
The attack, HRW said, occurred just a week before an Apr. 30 deadline for peace talks to end in Abuja, Nigeria. Two other villages in the area have also been attacked in the past 10 days.
In a statement issued Friday, Oxfam said this was the first resolution approved by the Security Council to include the World Summit agreement on "the collective responsibility to protect".
The commitment establishes a joint understanding among all governments on their responsibilities for the protection of civilians at the national and international level, Oxfam added.
"The Summit agreement and Security Council resolution affirm that national governments have the primary responsibility to protect their civilians from genocide, crimes against humanity and other similar atrocities," the statement said.
Oxfam also said that the international community has the obligation to support these efforts and prevent such crimes, and if national governments fail to protect their people, the international community must act.
According to the resolution, "the deliberate targeting of civilians and other protected persons, and the commission of systematic, flagrant and widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in situations of armed conflict, may constitute a threat to international peace and security".
And the Security Council reaffirms "its readiness to consider such situations and, where necessary, to adopt appropriate steps".
Meanwhile a major public rally to end the genocide in Darfur is scheduled to take place on Apr. 30, on the National Mall in Washington. Speakers include Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Governor Jon Corzine of the state of New Jersey, 2006 Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek, and Paul Rusesabagina (survivor of the Rwandan genocide depicted by actor Don Cheadle in the Hollywood movie "Hotel Rwanda".)
The organizers of the rally include a coalition of more than 160 faith-based, advocacy, and humanitarian organizations representing over 130 million U.S. citizens, according to the sponsors.
The goal is to raise public pressure on the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to end the genocide and build a lasting peace in the Darfur region of Western Sudan, and raise pressure on Congress to provide the resources necessary to do so, the organizers said in a statement released Friday.
Since 2003, the Sudanese government has sponsored the genocide perpetrated by its Janjaweed militia allies that has killed an estimated 300,000-plus people in the Darfur region in Western Sudan and has left 3.5 million Dafuris dependent on foreign aid for their survival, it added.
© Copyright 2006 IPS - Inter Press Service