(New York) - After its meeting today with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Security Council should take urgent steps to protect civilians in Darfur and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, the United States has proposed a 45-day delay in taking a decision on justice for Darfur's victims.

Today at 10 a.m., Annan will convene a meeting with the Security Council to discuss options for more decisive action to stop ongoing killing and rape in Darfur. Twelve of the Security Council's 15 members are on record in support of referring Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as part of a Sudan resolution that is currently under negotiation. However, the Bush administration opposes an ICC referral because of its ideological aversion to the court.  
The United States has instead proposed creating a new ad hoc tribunal for Sudan that has serious flaws, Human Rights Watch said. In the face of no support for this proposal, the United States is now seeking a 45-day delay to make a decision on accountability. Human Rights Watch would oppose any attempts to split the Sudan resolution in order to defer justice for later consideration.  
"As killing and rape continue in Darfur, the United States now proposes further delay," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "The Bush administration's rearguard campaign to avert an ICC referral is putting innocent civilians at risk in Darfur."  
Eyewitnesses in South Darfur recently told Human Rights Watch about how government-backed Janjaweed militia attacked villages in the Labado area in December and January, and singled out young women and girls for rape. Male relatives who protested were beaten, stripped naked, tied to trees, and forced to watch the rape of the women and girls.  
On January 25, 2005, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry for Darfur strongly recommended that the Security Council refer the situation to the ICC to hold accountable those most responsible for atrocities in Darfur. Although the U.S. government has publicly called the crimes in Darfur "genocide" and indeed sponsored the resolution that created the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, it has ignored the commission's findings that the ICC is the "single best mechanism" and "only credible way" to ensure justice is done.  
"Twelve of the Security Council's 15 members want the ICC to start investigating crimes in Darfur," said Dicker. "Washington's proposed delay would send the message that the council is unable to call to account those most responsible for committing atrocities in Darfur."  
Human Rights Watch has prepared a backgrounder detailing why the U.S. proposal for a Sudan Tribunal would fail to effectively handle the challenges of ensuring justice for atrocities committed in Darfur. Excerpts from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry's report also discuss why mechanisms other than the ICC are not advisable.