International court prepares for major test

The International Criminal Court was gearing up on Thursday for a possible war crimes investigation in Sudan’s violence-plagued Darfur region—an important case that officials say could confirm the fledgling tribunal’s legitimacy.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on Thursday on a resolution that would authorise the prosecution of Sudanese war crimes suspects by the court, whose creation was fiercely opposed by the United States.

The resolution appeared more likely to pass after US officials said Washington was dropping its objections to sending the Sudan case to the court because the international pressure was too great, especially from the European countries.

The court was established in July 2002 to prosecute individual perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, but it has not yet tried a case.

Some 98 countries have ratified its founding treaty, but the US sought to undermine its powers by signing bilateral immunity deals with countries guaranteeing they would not hand over US nationals to the court.

Prosecutors said in January they would welcome the Darfur case if they were given jurisdiction by the UN.

Once prosecutors have jurisdiction, they would begin a preliminary analysis to determine if the crimes fall under their authority. A court official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said prosecutors would be expected to report back to the Security Council in a matter of weeks about launching a formal investigation.

A case of such magnitude would place the young institution at the centre of a conflict that is estimated to have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions more. It would also put a severe strain on its 2005 budget of about €70-million (about R564-million).

Prosecutors have said they expect to issue the first arrest warrants and begin trials later this year against suspects in Uganda and Congo, but officials say they would need more money to open such a large-scale investigation.

Prosecutors are reviewing possible cases in six countries, among them Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic.
Darfur would pose a great challenge, not least because of the danger of sending investigators into a conflict zone to prepare cases and interview witnesses.

The western Sudanese region of Darfur has been the scene of perhaps the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The widespread death and destruction has been the result of a brutal counter-insurgency campaign led by government-supported Arab militias against black African farmers. The conflict began in February 2003.—Sapa-AP

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