Sudan to put ICC on the world map

A team of investigators from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is ready to deploy to Sudan’s Darfur region to evaluate war crimes, following passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution giving the tribunal jurisdiction, officials said.

The 15-member Security Council passed a resolution on Thursday authorising the prosecution of Sudanese war crimes suspects by the court, whose creation was fiercely opposed by the United States.

In a hard-negotiated compromise, the US was one of four countries to abstain, allowing the resolution to pass by a vote of 11-0 and removing the final hurdle to an ICC investigation.

A team of about two dozen investigators from the prosecutor’s office is ready to fly to Sudan and begin preparing cases against alleged perpetrators of severe human rights violations, and possibly genocide, a court official said on Thursday on condition of anonymity.

The western Sudanese region of Darfur has been the scene of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. A brutal counterinsurgency campaign led by government-supported Arab militias against black African farmers—and the resulting humanitarian catastrophe—has left tens of thousands dead.
The conflict began in February 2003.

A peace deal ending a separate, 21-year conflict in southern Sudan does not cover Darfur, where violence continues.

Though there had been no guarantee it would hear the case, the prosecutors in The Hague-based court were analysing the situation in Darfur for months, preparing for the day when the Security Council would refer the case, and are now ready to act quickly, the official said.

The prosecution case file will include material gathered by a special UN commission of inquiry, which compiled a list of 51 suspects submitted to the UN in January.

ICC investigators and forensic teams will likely work alongside African Union monitors in Darfur.

The Darfur case, if conducted properly, would put the new court firmly on the map of international justice and clear the way for more cases via the UN, said Richard Goldstone, the first prosecutor at the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

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

The US had campaigned against the court’s creation, fearing it would be used to file bogus, politically motivated charges against Americans, and Washington had blocked the UN resolution for weeks.

Goldstone called Thursday’s vote “a huge boost” for the court.

“It creates a good precedent. It’s very important that the ICC is seen to be acting professionally, respectably and efficiently,” he said.

Washington was anxious to work itself out of an uncomfortable political position over Darfur, he said.

“To declare it a genocide and then to block a referral—when they have no interests involved—would have brought condemnation from not only Africa, but the whole of Europe. It wasn’t worth causing that sort of problem at a time when Washington wants to mend fences.”

About 98 countries have ratified the court’s founding treaty, but the US has signed bilateral immunity deals with countries to guarantee they will not hand over US nationals to the court.

A case of such magnitude will place the young institution at the centre of a conflict that is estimated to have cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced about two million people. It also will put a severe strain on its 2005 budget of about €70-million.

The ICC is a court of last resort, empowered to step in only when countries are “unwilling or unable” to dispense justice themselves. It can only prosecute crimes if they have been committed in countries that ratified the Rome Treaty, if a non-member country grants it special jurisdiction or if the UN refers a case.

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

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