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Sudan: Activists Call for Full Support for International Criminal Court

4/8/2006 10:59am

By Joel Wendland

click here for related stories: Human Rights 4-08-06, 10:04 am

The Sudanese government continues to fight access to justice by victims of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, says a Sudanese nongovernmental organization (NGO) report released earlier this month.

At the release of the report, the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) issued a statement that "condemns the opposition of the Sudanese authorities to the takeover of the mandate of the African Union by UN forces," and calls for "the active cooperation of Sudan with the International Criminal Court (ICC), one year after the Security Council referral of the situation in Darfur to the ICC."

SOAT pointed out that the UN Security Council in March extended the UN mandate to aid the African Union's mission in Sudan (UNSC Res. 1663). SOAT praised the resolution and viewed it at as an international effort to protect people who are subject to violence and displacement in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The African Union has agreed to aid the increased role of the UN in Darfur, said SOAT, but "now faces the hostility of Khartoum and the concern that its first peacekeeping mission could be a failure."

The apparent stalemate, forced by the Sudan government's hostility and the lack of concerted pressure on the part of its friends, especially the Bush administration, has caused "the persistence of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur," according to SOAT.

In addition to calling for an increased role by the UN in "the protection of the civil population," SOAT called for the government of Sudan's "cooperation with the different organs of the International Criminal Court."

It is in this context of the blocking of international efforts to increase the forces necessary for protecting the civilian population – the victims of government-sponsored violence and displacement – that SOAT and IFHR now report on the Sudanese government's refusal to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The primary mandate of the ICC is not to intervene in the internal affairs of a country but to provide an international and independent setting for citizens and their allies to appeal for justice when a government, which is a signatory to the treaty creating the court, is unwilling or incapable of bringing criminal elements to justice, or participates in crimes itself.

This is the case with the Sudan, reports SOAT/IFHR. While the government of Sudan has created the so-called "Special Court for Darfur," all sources, other than the government of Sudan, have recognized that it "has neither the will nor the capacity to respond to the expectations of victims and civil society."

In April 2005, the UN Security Council agreed with this assessment of the "Special Court" and referred the matter to the ICC, over the abstention of the US representative. More recently, the Security Council’s decision was implicitly acknowledged as correct by the Bush administration when Bush himself said late last month that "genocide has to be stopped" in the Sudan. Bush's comment implies that the Sudanese government’s efforts to end the violence and bring perpetrators to justice have so far failed.

Unfortunately, the administration has refused to support the referral of war crimes in the Sudan to the ICC and continues to oppose the court's existence.

In a recent report, titled "The International Criminal Court and Sudan: Access to Justice and Victims’ Rights," IFHR program director for the Middle East and North Africa, Stephanie David, remarked on US hostility to the ICC. "Today, the US opposition to the ICC has reached such a level of hostility," David said, "that one could say the US is at war with the ICC."

David suggested that the US position against the International Criminal Court has overridden the Bush administration objections to genocide in the Sudan. This hostility has in turn inspired an aggressive effort to weaken the court, and may ultimately lead to the US becoming "a haven for war criminal suspects wanted by the court."

David's diplomatic remarks did not acknowledge the fact that the US is widely perceived to have already become such a haven. Only the most recent example is the US government's protection of anti-Cuban terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles as well as numerous mercenary organizations that have openly admitted to targeting Cuban civilians with terrorist acts.

Also, without international intervention, it is unlikely that those who, during the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror, crafted a policy of torture and rendition in violation of numerous international conventions against such – Bush himself, Alberto Gonzales, Donald Rumsfeld, and numerous generals and intelligence officials – will go unpunished.

The SOAT/IFHR report further pointed out the many grave problems associated with the work of the Sudanese-created "Special Court." These include immunity for police and military forces who are often involved in mass killings and other violence, excessively stringent evidentiary requirements, and the Sudanese government’s failure to guarantee fair trials or protection for witnesses and their families, all of which make the "Special Court" less than credible.

Further, despite labeling the actions of the government-supported militias in Darfur as genocide in September of 2004, the Bush administration continues to provide material aid, especially for intelligence assistance, to the Sudanese government and re-established friendly trade relations with it last year.

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