Historic Step Toward Justice; Further Protection Measures Needed
(New York) - The U.N. Security Council resolution referring Darfur to the International Criminal Court is a historic step toward justice for massive human rights violations committed in the western Sudanese region. At the same time, the Security Council should help ensure an increased force on the ground to protect civilians and stabilize the deteriorating security situation.
The resolution gives the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authority to investigate and prosecute serious crimes committed in Darfur. As Sudan is not a party to the treaty establishing the court, a referral from the Security Council is the only way for the court to have jurisdiction over the crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The resolution passed with eleven votes in favor, and four abstentions, including the United States.
"The Security Council's action signals that those most responsible for mayhem and murder in Darfur will be brought to justice," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "This historic step by the Security Council offers real hope of protection for people in Darfur."
For this reason, Human Rights Watch welcomes the abstention of the United States in the vote.
"We now look to the ICC prosecutor to respond swiftly and assume the responsibilities entrusted to him," said Dicker.
The resolution gives states that are not party to the ICC exclusive jurisdiction over nationals, current or former officials, and personnel they contribute to operations in Sudan mandated by the Security Council or the African Union. Human Rights Watch opposes this exemption, which was included in an effort to avoid a U.S. veto of the resolution. The exemption violates long-established principles of jurisdiction and undermines the ability of national courts to prosecute those personnel accused of any crimes in connection with operations in Sudan, Human Rights Watch said.
"The resolution's exemption is offensive, and it sets no precedent for the future," said Dicker. "We oppose this exemption giving non-ICC states exclusive jurisdiction over personnel they contribute to Security Council or African Union operations in Sudan."
While the referral to the ICC is a decisive step toward preventing further abuses, other concrete measures remain desperately needed, Human Rights Watch said. An immediate increase in the protection force in Darfur and monitoring of the Sudanese government's commitment to end its aerial bombing of civilians are crucial.
The existing 2,000-member African Union ceasefire monitoring force lacks enough troops to adequately deploy in rural areas, protect civilians, or stabilize the deteriorating situation. Human Rights Watch has called on Security Council members to support the recent African Union proposal to double its force by providing all necessary financial, logistical, and other forms of support.
"The insecurity that continues to plague rural Darfur has rendered civilians displaced by the government's ‘ethnic cleansing' campaign into de facto prisoners in the camps and towns," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. "A much bigger protection force must be deployed. The Security Council needs to actively support the African Union and maintain the pressure on Khartoum."
Despite fewer allegations of air attacks in the last two months, the violence in Darfur has not ceased. Almost two million people have been forcefully displaced from their homes since February 2003. Most of the displaced persons remain in camps and towns and cannot return to their homes and farms due to ongoing attacks, rape, looting, and assault by government-backed militias known as the Janjaweed.
The Sudanese government has been unable or unwilling to stop ongoing atrocities. In recent months, rebel movements have also been responsible for an increasing number of attacks on commercial convoys. The prevalent insecurity, particularly for humanitarian aid convoys and commercial vehicles, is increasing fears of a major food crisis in the coming months.