UN rights official urges Darfur tribunals

The UN's top human rights official has added to pressure on the United States to try war crimes committed in Darfur at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

    The US does not support the International Criminal Court

    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said on Wednesday that 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.


    Politically motivated trials


    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 in place. 


    At least 70,000 people have died
    in Darfur after years of fighting

    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".


    Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said the US-proposed court in Tanzania eventually would run out of money and be disbanded, 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."


    Sudan insists its courts can deliver justice and opposes any trials on Darfur outside the country.


    Crimes against humanity


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


    Arbour believes a tribunal at the
    ICC will end violence in Sudan 

    It also found that 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 honoured its pledge to stop the bloodshed.


    Can't trust Khartoum


    "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.


    "While the United Nations may not be able to take humanity to heaven, it must act to save humanity from hell"

    UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

    "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.




    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.


    "If there were ever a case where there cannot be any sustainable peace without accountability for the perpetration of these offences, this is the case," Arbour said.


    "This is a case where, to indict and arrest certain persons could actually prevent the commission of crimes and actually save lives and protect victims," she added.


    Diplomats who attended a closed-door Security Council meeting with Arbour, however, said the impasse over the trials showed no sign of movement.


    Algeria and China are backing Sudan, while Washington is sticking to its position.


    Annan said the Darfur report was a basis for urgent action by the council.


    "While the United Nations may not be able to take humanity to heaven, it must act to save humanity from hell," Annan said.



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