UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council approved a resolution last night to prosecute Sudanese war crimes suspects before the International Criminal Court, after the United States reversed policy and agreed not to use its veto.
The United States won significant concessions, including guarantees it sought that Americans working in Sudan would not be handed over to either the International Criminal Court or any other nation's courts if they are accused of crimes in Sudan.
With Secretary-General Kofi Annan looking on, the council voted 11-0 with four abstentions -- the United States, Algeria, Brazil, and China.
''This resolution marks a turning point, for it is sending the message beyond Darfur to all of those criminals responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes who all too often believed that they were beyond the pale of justice," France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said.
Acting US Ambassador Anne Patterson said the United States still ''fundamentally objects" to the court but was determined to get something done on Sudan.
''It is important that the international community speak with one voice in order to help promote effective accountability," Patterson said.
Even with the legal concessions, the US decision not to veto was a major shift. President Bush has actively opposed the court, and US diplomats had repeatedly said they opposed any variation that referred the Sudan cases to it.
On Wednesday, Bush administration officials had said they would consider dropping their objections to using the International Criminal Court for Sudanese suspects because of the legal guarantees it got for its citizens. But the threat of a US veto loomed as diplomats grappled yesterday with language acceptable to all sides.
France, Britain, and seven other Security Council members have ratified the ICC statute, while two more have signed and are expected to ratify. In total, 98 countries are parties to the treaty and 139 are signatories.
The document is the last of three Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Sudan to stop a crisis in Darfur, where the number of dead from a conflict between government-backed militias and rebels in Darfur is estimated at 180,000.
One strengthens the arms embargo and imposes an asset freeze and travel ban on those who defy peace efforts. The other will send 10,000 UN peacekeepers to monitor a peace deal between the government and southern rebels that ended a 21-year civil war. The council hopes the resolution will also help Darfur move toward peace as well.
A veto on the third resolution could have been politically damaging and awkward because the prosecution of war crimes suspects would have been held in limbo and because the United States was the leading proponent of accusing Sudanese officials of genocide in Darfur.
The Bush administration had wanted an African court to try those accused of war crimes, but the US proposal had little support.
The US decision to allow the court to prosecute war crimes perpetrators could anger conservatives for whom the court is an unaccountable body that cannot be trusted. They include John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and the nominee to become the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
The draft refers Darfur cases since July 1, 2002, to the International Criminal Court. That was the recommendation of a UN panel that had concluded in January that crimes against humanity -- but not genocide -- occurred in the western region of Sudan.
The final negotiations hinged on the language in paragraph six of the resolution, which says that citizens of countries that have not ratified the treaty establishing the court may only be prosecuted by their national courts. Several diplomats said they objected because they feared paragraph six seriously weakened the criminal court.