We are writing concerning the unacceptable delay in Security Council action to protect civilians at risk in Darfur, Sudan. We believe that strong Security Council action is overdue, including the referral of the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Human Rights Watch urges your government to immediately co-sponsor a resolution referring Darfur to the ICC. In addition, we see measures such as more rigorous targeted sanctions, a no-fly zone, and a substantially increased African Union presence on the ground as essential to bringing a measure of protection to civilians in Darfur.
Nearly two months have passed since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry for Darfur issued its report on January 25, 2005, finding that "crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been committed in Darfur may be no less serious and heinous than genocide." The Commission "strongly recommend[ed] that the Security Council immediately refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court."
Ongoing delay has devastating consequences for people in Darfur where human rights abuses continue to be committed on a daily basis. As the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, stated this week to the U.N. Commission of Human Rights, "The abandonment - even the postponement - of the process of justice is an affront to those who obey the law and a betrayal of those who rely on the law for their protection; it is a call for the use of force in revenge and, therefore, a bankruptcy of peace."
More delay is likely to lead to a more fragmented situation on the ground, including through the splintering of armed groups on all sides, increasing lack of control by leadership over rebel forces on the ground, and the proliferation of irregular armed forces. This will make the situation more and more difficult to resolve, create worse human rights conditions, and have serious regional and national implications for stability. More delay will also contribute to a worsening of the humanitarian situation. The U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, said last week that between three and four million Sudanese in Darfur could need food relief by the middle of the year due to the ongoing conflict.
Human Rights Watch believes that delay sends an extremely damaging message about the ability of the Security Council to respond to the widespread atrocities in Darfur, a situation the U.N. Secretary-General has called "little short of hell on earth." Regarding ICC referral, more delay can only serve the interests of those who are opposing accountability for those most responsible for committing horrific crimes in Darfur.
The ICC remains the only course of action with the speed and staying power to ensure that those most responsible for serious crimes in Darfur are held to account. We note that the recent proposal by the Nigerian government to establish an "African panel for criminal justice and reconciliation" could potentially serve as a complementary effort to ICC prosecutions to ensure justice for human rights violations in Darfur. However, this proposal is no substitute for what will be a limited number of prosecutions of those most responsible by the ICC.
Given the current state of negotiations, we reiterate our deep concern at the urgency of the situation on the ground. Those who want effective and efficient justice are in a strong position to ensure that the Security Council refers Darfur to the ICC. Human Rights Watch urges your government to immediately co-sponsor a resolution referring Darfur to the ICC.
Director, International Justice Program