(Brussels) - The United States is blocking U.N. Security Council action on the human rights crisis in Darfur on account of the Bush administration’s hostility to the International Criminal Court. On Tuesday, the United States proposed splitting a U.N. Security Council draft resolution on Sudan into three separate resolutions, none of which would authorize a tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity in Darfur.

“The United States is hanging the people of Darfur out to dry by stalling on justice,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “After labeling Darfur a genocide, the United States is now blocking the credible threat of prosecution by the International Criminal Court, which could immediately deter further violence in Darfur.”

The U.S. move follows ongoing negotiations among all Security Council members on a single Sudan resolution on justice, targeted sanctions, and a peace-support mission. The U.N. peace-support mission for Sudan is to implement the Naivasha peace agreement, the accord ending the 21-year civil war between the Sudanese government and southern-based rebels. The mission of 10,000 troops will cover areas in the north and south of Sudan, but not Darfur, where continuing fighting and violence against civilians has created a human rights disaster.

“In the guise of taking action on a peacekeeping force in the North-South conflict, the United States is pushing aside measures needed to deal with atrocities in Darfur,” said Dicker. “Vague commitments to accountability are not enough. The heinous crimes committed in Darfur need immediate investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Court.”

Twelve out of the Security Council’s 15 members support authorizing the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute crimes in Darfur. U.S. opposition to referring Darfur to the ICC is unrelated to crimes committed in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said. Instead, it is rooted in the Bush administration’s ideological opposition to the court, which focuses largely on fears about politically motivated prosecutions against Americans.

On January 25, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry for Darfur strongly recommended that the Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Washington sponsored the resolution that created the U.N. commission, but has ignored the commission’s findings that the ICC is the “single best mechanism” and “only credible way” to ensure that justice is done in Darfur.

“As the Security Council delays, the situation in Darfur is only getting worse,” said Peter Takirambudde, director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “The people of Darfur need a vastly enhanced protective force. But in the meantime, targeted sanctions and justice could have an immediate impact. They should be a top priority for passage by every Security Council member.”

The violence in Darfur has continued, despite fewer allegations of air attacks on civilians in the past two months. Almost two million people have been forcefully displaced from their homes in the past two years of the conflict. Most of these displaced civilians have become virtual prisoners in camps and towns 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. Rebel movements have also been responsible for an increasing number of attacks on commercial convoys over the past months.