(Brussels) - The EU Troika should send a clear message to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the Security Council must refer Darfur to the International Criminal Court at the February 10 EU-USA Ministerial Meeting in Luxembourg, Human Rights Watch said today. The first visit of Secretary of State Rice to Europe is a timely opportunity for the EU to raise the importance of accountability for crimes committed in Darfur.

On February 4, the European Union issued a declaration welcoming the contents of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on Darfur that was released last week. The report strongly recommended that the Security Council refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Commission of Inquiry’s report stated that the ICC is the “single best mechanism” and the “only credible way” of ensuring effective justice for the victims in Darfur. Since Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, a referral by the U.N. Security Council to the ICC would be needed for the ICC to have authority over crimes committed in Darfur.

“This week, the EU has the chance to put its words into action,” said Lotte Leicht, Director of the Brussels office of Human Rights Watch. “During their meeting, the EU Troika should send the clearest possible message that crimes in Darfur must be referred to the ICC as the best way to ensure that justice is done and lives are saved.”

Washington has put forth a costly and time consuming alternative: a new “Sudan Tribunal” based in Arusha, Tanzania. The U.S. administration has said that it opposes referring Darfur to the ICC because it does not “want to be party to legitimizing the ICC.” The Commission of Inquiry report details why such an alternative to the ICC is inadvisable, citing both expense and delay.

The U.S. proposal would create delay. Even if it shared facilities with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as proposed, it would require negotiating a new statute and rules, recruiting staff, and appointing judges. It would undoubtedly take months if not more than a year to get the new tribunal off the ground, Human Rights Watch said.

The U.S. proposal is likely to cost far more than the ICC. The “Sudan Tribunal” is estimated to cost some $30 million in the first 6-8 months and then rise up to $100 million annually, while the ICC’s 2005 overall budget is approximately $88 million. This budget includes investigations in three different country situations, preliminary analysis of another six situations, infrastructure, and payment of general staff and judges.

“The U.S. proposal for a Sudan Tribunal spells nothing but delay,” said Leicht. “As atrocities in Darfur continue, the EU must convey in no uncertain terms that the U.S. proposal for a Sudan Tribunal is not an acceptable alternative to the ICC. If the EU is serious about justice for Darfur, it must stand firm on the ICC.”

The U.S. proposal ignores the strong ties between many AU members and the ICC. The African Union has 26 member states that are ICC states parties, some of whom were heavily involved in the establishment of the court. Additionally, four African states have already asked the ICC to investigate crimes in their country. The U.S. has argued that the “Sudan Tribunal” would be more appropriate as it takes full account of and reinforces the African Union (AU) role in addressing the Darfur conflict.

Since early 2003, widespread atrocities have been committed in Darfur by the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed militias under the guise of counter-insurgency operations against two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality movement. Thousands of civilians have been massacred, raped, or held in inhumane conditions. More than one and half million people were forcibly displaced from their homes and hundred of villages were destroyed.

The EU General Affairs Council has repeatedly called for justice for atrocities in Darfur. The EU actively called for a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, which the Security Council authorized in September 2004.