Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 6 News List

UN pressures the US to try Darfur war crimes in court

HUMANITY Washington wants to avoid seeing its own citizens brought before the ICC, although it officially considers the Darfur conflict `genocide'


The UN's top human rights official on Wednesday added to pressure on the US to try war crimes committed in Darfur at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said the tribunal was the best choice for ending the violence in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region and bringing rights violators to justice.

"Referral to the ICC is the best means by which to halt ongoing violations and prevent future ones," Arbour told the UN Security Council at an open meeting.

"With an already existing set of well-defined rules of procedure and evidence, the court is the best-suited institution for ensuring speedy investigations leading to arrests and demonstrably fair trials," she said.

Fearing its nationals could be subjected to politically motivated trials, the US does not back the court and has instead proposed an ad hoc tribunal in Tanzania, where a Rwandan war crimes court is already in place.

But many Security Council members are in support of referring the matter to the ICC, and France's UN ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said such a move could "certainly not" be ruled out yet.

In a draft resolution on Monday, the US called for violators to be brought to justice through "internationally accepted means" -- vague language intended to get around a council showdown.

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said the US-proposed court in Tanzania would eventually run out of money and be disbanded, eventually allowing those with blood on their hands to go free.

"The US proposal to create a new tribunal for Darfur is a mirage of a solution," Dicker said. "A new ad hoc court would lack the speed and staying power to get the job done."

Arbour was making a formal presentation of last month's report by a commission of enquiry, which found war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed by Sudanese government officials and their militia allies.

It also found members of rebel groups may have committed war crimes but that there was no systematic or widespread pattern to those rights violations.

At least 70,000 people and possibly many tens of thousands more have died after two years of fighting in Darfur, where the government and its proxy militias have brutally put down a rebellion launched in February 2003.

The militias have been blamed for a scorched-earth campaign of pillaging, rape and murder, and Arbour said the Sudanese government had not honored its pledge to stop the bloodshed.

"In my view, any new initiative proposed by the government of Sudan today to address these crimes could not be supported in light of the commission's conclusions," she said.

"Despite the magnitude of the crisis, the government informed the commission of very few cases of individuals who had been prosecuted or even disciplined in the context of the situation in Darfur," Arbour said.

Unlike the commission, which said the question could be decided by a court, the US has called the killing a genocide.

But Washington wants to avoid seeing its citizens brought before the ICC in charges brought by those opposed to US policies. Sudan insists its own courts can deliver justice and opposes any trials on Darfur outside the country.

Peace talks between the government and rebels are at a standstill, and UN officials have warned the bloodshed could derail last month's peace accord that ended a separate, 21-year north-south civil war.

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