Bush Administration to Block War Crimes Tribunal for Darfur Atrocities


3-28-05, 8:56 am

Human rights organizations denounced the Bush administration's attempt to derail UN Security Council action on the human rights crisis in Darfur region of the Sudan last week.

Last Tuesday, the US delegation to the UN Security Council proposed watering down a draft resolution on Darfur and announced its opposition to referring the crimes it has labeled as genocide to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Almost two million people have been forcefully displaced from their homes in the past two years of the conflict. Most of these displaced civilians have become virtual prisoners in camps and towns due to ongoing attacks, rape, looting, and assault by the Janjaweed.

In a joint statement with the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) to the UN Commission on Human Rights last February, SOAT urged the United Nations, African Union and the international community to expand the mandate of the African Union's peace keeping forces to include the protection of civilians, to refer the situation in Darfur to the prosecutor of the ICC, to investigate allegations of continued attacks on civilians including allegations of torture, continue to exert pressure on all parties in the conflict to come to a peaceful settlement, guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.

Friday, the Security Council adopted a resolution establishing a U.N. peace-support mission for Sudan. This mission is to implement the Naivasha peace agreement, the accord ending the 21-year civil war between the Sudanese government and southern-based rebels. The mission will not be deployed in Darfur, where Sudanese forces and government-backed Janjaweed militias have been responsible for atrocities against civilians.  

In addition to SOAT and IFHR, a coalition of several dozen mainly African-based human rights organizations known as the Darfur Consortium reiterated its call for an immediate referral of the situation in Darfur to the ICC. In mid-March the consortium rejected a US-backed proposal to refer war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region to a special African court in Tanzania.

A representative of the consortium told African news agency Afrol News earlier this month that most African countries as well as the people of Darfur viewed the ICC as the best venue for bringing justice to the people of that region and as 'a protection mechanism from the continued attacks by government forces.'   At least 12 of the 15 members of the Security Council favoring referring war crimes to the ICC as part of the accountability portion of the UNSC's resolutions on the Darfur crisis.

By all accounts, a US veto of the French proposal to refer the situation to the ICC would be perceived by those committing atrocities in Darfur as an indication that they are safe from punishment. The danger persists, in fact, that they might even view such a move as a sign that the label of 'genocide' adopted by the US was meant as nothing more than rhetoric.

According to Afrol News, earlier this month the American Bar Association also weighed in in support of the concept embodied in the French proposal. In a letter to the Bush administration, the leading lawyers' professional association urged him to permit the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC as the best way to 'end the genocide there.'

As expected, the Sudanese government, which is not a signatory of the ICC treaty, shares the Bush administration's ideological opposition to the ICC and to the French resolution.

The fact that the administration has spent the last weeks trying to avoid having to vote on a resolution that refers the crimes in Darfur to the ICC hints that it would rather deliver a blow to the work of the ICC than to bring justice for atrocities that have shaken much of the world.

A vote on the French proposal is expected Wednesday.