(New York) - U.N. Security Council members should urgently pass a new French-proposed resolution that would refer Darfur to the International Criminal Court. The United States should abstain on the vote if it decides not to vote in favor. 
 
Today, the Security Council adopted a resolution establishing a U.N. peace-support mission for Sudan. This mission is to implement the Naivasha peace agreement, the accord ending the 21-year civil war between the Sudanese government and southern-based rebels. The peace-support mission will be deployed in the north and south of Sudan, but not in Darfur, where Sudanese forces and government-backed Janjaweed militias have been responsible for atrocities against civilians.  
 
The Security Council today also delayed a vote on targeted sanctions and accountability for Darfur. These were initially included in a single resolution on Sudan. But on Tuesday, the United States announced a decision to split the single Sudan resolution into three separate resolutions.  
 
France yesterday put forward a resolution that would refer Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The move comes shortly after the United States indicated it would put its resolution on the peace-support mission to a vote. The United States has proposed putting forward a resolution on accountability. But the U.S. resolution would fail to authorize any tribunal to prosecute the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.  
 
"The threat of serious criminal prosecution would send a powerful message to those most responsible for the atrocities in Darfur," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "An ICC referral would help deter attacks against civilians."  
 
A wide majority of Security Council members already support referring Darfur to the International Criminal Court, but the United States opposes this measure. U.S. opposition is rooted in the Bush administration's aversion to the court.  
 
"Given the mayhem and murder in Darfur, it's long past time for the United States to get past its ideological fixations about the ICC," said Dicker. "The United States should abstain on ICC referral so the court can immediately open investigations on crimes in Darfur."  
 
The French-proposed resolution would offer the possibility of immunity from ICC prosecution to personnel serving in U.N. operations in Sudan. The exemption would apply to personnel contributed by countries that have not ratified the ICC treaty-such as the United States-if the country notifies the U.N. Secretary-General. Human Rights Watch opposes this exemption, which is included as a concession to the United States. By offering the possibility of blanket immunity to a class of individuals, the resolution distorts the Rome Treaty that established the ICC.  
 
While the referral to the ICC would be a decisive step towards preventing further abuses, other concrete measures are desperately needed, Human Rights Watch said. The U.N. Security Council should support an immediate increase in the protection force in Darfur and greater monitoring of the Sudanese government's commitment to end its aerial bombing of civilians. Since the Darfur conflict began two years ago, Sudanese forces and government-backed Janjaweed militias have forcibly displaced almost two million people from their homes. Most of the displaced remain in camps and towns due to ongoing attacks, rape, looting, and assault by Janjaweed militias.  
 
The Sudanese government has been unable or unwilling to stop ongoing atrocities. The prevalent insecurity, which has led to attacks against humanitarian aid convoys and commercial vehicles, is increasing fears of dangerous food shortages in the coming months.