SUDAN WATCH: War crimes indictment could save Sudanese lives

Monday, February 28, 2005

War crimes indictment could save Sudanese lives

Here is a copy of an easy to read report at Radio Netherlands that explains the US position on the International Criminal Court. Louise Arbour, the top United Nations' human rights official, says that indicting and arresting people suspected of committing war crimes could save lives and protect victims. She is urging the UN Security Council to refer the case of Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and says,

"The ICC could be activated immediately. With an already existing set of well-defined rules of procedure and evidence, the Court was the best institution to ensure speedy investigations leading to arrests and demonstrably fair trials."

Contentious issue
This is a contentious issue - especially for the United States. Though the US has been at the forefront of recommending tough action on Sudan, it opposes the international court in The Hague, fearing that one day, Americans could be put on trial there.

David Scheffer was the top US negotiator for the ICC under the Clinton administration; he says the US has nothing to fear and everything to gain by referring this case:

"Even if you're the greatest sceptic of the ICC - and there are many of them in the Bush administration - there simply is no strong argument they can come up with as to why the ICC should not be seized with the Darfur situation. An ICC investigation of Darfur need not expose any US national, or the US government, to any criminal liability whatsoever before the ICC."

US doesn't want it
But this argument is unlikely to sway opponents of the ICC. Nicholas Rostow is the General Counsel at the US mission to the United Nations in New York:

"Our position is that we don't need it, we don't approve of this particular court and we don't wish to be faced with questions - as we are all the time at the United Nations - having to do with how to vote or deal with language implying US support for an institution which we do not support. Beyond that, if the parties to the court want to use it for themselves ... that's fine."

Not straightforward
But the case of Darfur is not that straightforward. Sudan is not party to the treaty on which the ICC is founded - therefore war crimes committed in Sudan can only be prosecuted if the Security Council refers the case. The irony is that America fought for the court to work in exactly this manner:

"When we were negotiating the statute for the ICC back in the 1990s, this was our dream case. And this was the dream case of everyone in the Pentagon, and on Capitol Hill. A case in which the Security Council would have exclusive power of referral to the court and would be able to shape the court's role through a Security Council resolution. This case of Sudan presents that possibility, and only that possibility."

Sharing the burden
But instead, the US has proposed the creation of an ad hoc court to bring perpetrators of war crimes to account. Nicholas Rostow says:

"We have an idea for the creation of an African Criminal Court which would become a permanent fixture of the African landscape ... They need such an institution, and as I understand it, they want it. That's the position the US favours. It's not an attack on the ICC. It's not an alternative to the ICC. It's a regional sharing of the burden, so that it could be an African institution, supported by others, which would address horrific crimes which have recently occurred in Africa."

But it's not clear who would be willing to share this burden. The majority of members Security Council members support the International Criminal Court. It's doubtful whether they would be willing to bypass an institution they helped to create and fund, in order to satisfy American demands. It's also not clear what kind of mandate an ad hoc court would have: all that would have to be negotiated.

Heart of independence
Money is another concern, says David Scheffer:

"It will be a significant cost and even if the current administration is willing to pay it, I'm not so sure Congress is. And furthermore, it goes to the very heart of the independence of that tribunal if the US is the only funder of that court. What does it say about the independence of that court?"

Meanwhile, as the haggling continues, so does the violence in Darfur. It's estimated that some 300,000 people have died in the conflict to date. In her presentation to the Security Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, highlighted recent atrocities. Further delays in intervention will mean more victims.

End to the conflict
The US has pushed hard for a end to the conflict in Sudan. But critics now say that America's dislike of the court is overriding its strong commitment to achieving peace in the region. David Scheffer says:

"I think an American veto [of a resolution to refer the case of Darfur to the ICC] would be the final evidence of what has been occurring over the past four years under the Bush administration, which is that the US is relinquishing what it used to have leadership in. A veto would send a strong signal to the rest of the world that the US is stepping back from the challenge of international justice."
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African leaders should lean on Sudan

Here is an article by Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Laurie Goering Feb 27, who writes about the African Union, Sudan, Togo and Zimbabwe and explains that analysts are saying African leaders appear increasingly unwilling to stand for undemocratic seizures of power on the continent, but remain reluctant to act against established regimes that commit atrocities or flout democratic principles. Here is an excerpt relating to the Sudan:

"When African leaders really want to lean on somebody, they do. The peer pressure is enormous," said John Prendergast, an Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group in Washington. "There's a consensus that's developed that any kind of non-democratic transition of power, or military coup, will be vociferously opposed and overturned."

But the same leaders "bristle at anyone who tries to tell a government in Africa how to govern," Prendergast said, and that means that the African Union has hesitated to take any action on Darfur without the Sudanese government's approval.

In Sudan, the African Union has staged "an impotent, irrelevant intervention that doesn't have an impact on people's lives on the ground," even as the World Heath Organization reports 10,000 people a month dying in Darfur and a growing threat of famine, Prendergast said. That inaction, he said, threatens to compromise the African Union's standing as a body capable of dealing with Africa's problems.

As the U.S. Congress puts growing pressure on the Bush administration to take stronger action in Darfur, the United States may soon "start twisting arms in the [UN] Security Council," Prendergast said. "Then you'll see something start happening."

Specifically, he believes growing U.S. pressure and a new threat of some type of Security Council-mandated international troop intervention in Darfur could push Sudan's government to at least accept a larger contingent of African Union troops in Darfur, one with a mission to protect civilians.

"For the government of Sudan to be influenced sufficiently to accept a mandate that is much more interventionist, it has to see the larger international community, particularly countries like the U.S., pushing for that stronger mandate," Prendergast said.

If the UN Security Council fails to threaten strong action against Sudan, he said, "Sudan gets the message loud and clear that there is no cost" to continuing its campaign of what has been called ethnic cleansing against African peasants living in a region that has spawned a rebel uprising against Khartoum.
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Rwandan president calls for more troops in Darfur

28 Feb article by China News quotes Rwandan President Paul Kagame today as saying:

"The issue of numbers of the troops will have to be critically examined by the African Union. If they had more troops on ground covering many positions, then you are likely to have fewer violations of the ceasefire and other agreements on the ground. I think this is a matter that the African Union would like to review," said Kagame, who was in Sudan for three days last week.

"We will give the AU information that we came with based on what we heard and saw and felt on the ground," he added.
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African leaders work on new summit for Darfur crisis

28 Feb AFP report from Cairo confirms African leaders are working to set a date for a new summit in Egypt, sponsored by the African Union, to try again to solve the crisis in Darfur, the Egyptian president's office said Monday.

"The various parties involved are currently engaged in negotiations to set a new date for the Darfur summit initially slated for March 5 in Aswan" in southern Egypt, presidential spokesman told the official MENA news agency. The leaders of Sudan, neighbouring Egypt, Chad and Libya, as well as Nigeria -- which chairs the African Union -- are due to take part.

A similar meeting on the troubled west Sudan region of Darfur was held in Libya in October 2004, but yielded little result on the ground. Another summit grouping several other African leaders was held in Chad earlier this month and outlined new steps to ensure that a moribund ceasefire was being respected in Darfur.

Violations of the April 2004 ceasefire by the Sudanese government, its militia allies, and the Darfur rebels had led to the collapse of the Abuja peace talks in December last year.

The Abuja talks -- the only direct negotiations between warring parties -- have yet to resume, despite an earlier announcement from Khartoum that the process could restart by the end of February.
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The Secret Genocide Archive

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Photos courtesy Nicholas D. Kristof's report in New York Times re-published online today via Venezuela and Italy.
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For an American city's Sudanese, Darfur hits home

27 Feb report by Beth Quimby, Portland Press Herald Writer - excerpt:

Abdelrahim Khamis was one of about 65 tribal Fur refugees and 30 others who gathered at the Darfur Unity Conference in Portland, USA at the weekend to discuss the plight of their countrymen and try to find some solutions.

They flew in from across the country, joining many from Portland's own 70-member tribal Fur community, the largest in the country. They are part of the city's roughly 400-member Sudanese community.

"Unity is needed, much more than ever before," said the conference chairman. He told the gathering that it took only a few years for the militias to rid Darfur of its tribal people, but it could take 100 years for them to return unless Darfurian refugees and the international community join together.

"We worry about them," said Abdel Abkar of Portland. He said he wanted to help people learn about the genocide taking place in his homeland.

Mohamed Ahmed of Baltimore said the African Union cannot save the people of the Darfur region alone.

Amanda Moore of Cape Elizabeth said she read about the conference in Saturday morning's newspaper and felt compelled to attend. She had never done anything similar before. "It seems the very least we can do is hear the story," she said.
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Kofi Annan heads For London on a visit headlined by Middle East situation

26 Feb The situation in the Middle East dominates the agenda of a day-long visit to London tomorrow by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, his second trip to the British capital in a month.

Mr. Annan will address the London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority, which is being hosted by the UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair, on Tuesday morning.

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