(Brussels) - The European Union should follow through with its pledge to impose sanctions on Sudanese officials who continue to defy the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said today.

"Today, the EU ministers renewed their pledge to the victims of Darfur to push for justice," said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. "But words alone aren't going to help the victims. The 27 EU member states should follow up with sanctions against Sudanese leaders who snub the international court."

Following a June 16 meeting with ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the EU foreign ministers issued a statement deploring "continued failure" of the Sudanese government to cooperate with the ICC. They called on Khartoum to surrender the two men wanted by the ICC and to "demonstrate its commitment to end impunity for the planners and perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity." The EU foreign ministers also made clear that the EU "stands ready to consider measures against individuals responsible for not-cooperating with the ICC," should Sudan continue to disregard its obligations under UN Security Council resolution 1593.

Human Rights Watch urged EU foreign ministers to impose the sanctions at their July 21 meeting and adopt measures that would freeze and seize assets of individuals identified as impeding cooperation with the ICC. Furthermore, EU ministers should deny these individuals access to EU banks for any financial transactions and impose an EU-wide travel ban on them.

In response to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Sudanese government in Darfur since 2003, the EU on March 31, 2005 led a successful effort to have the United Nations Security Council refer the situation in Darfur to the ICC (Security Council resolution 1593). Following the referral, the ICC prosecutor conducted investigations into international crimes committed in Darfur, which resulted in the court issuing arrest warrants on April 27, 2007 against current State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun and former "Janjaweed" militia leader Ali Kosheib for 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since then, Khartoum has staunchly refused to surrender the accused and has continued its attacks on civilians.

"All EU member states should recognize that Sudanese officials are protecting the accused and not the victims," said Leicht. "The EU knows that Sudanese leaders are denying the atrocities, covering up the crimes, and promoting the alleged perpetrators."
The EU position taken on June 16 echoes the one issued by France's representative to the Security Council during its recent mission to Khartoum, and the one issued by the EU in its declaration of March 31, 2008.

"For the first time, the EU is formally stating that it will adopt sanctions against Sudanese leaders if they continue to deny justice to the victims in Darfur," said Leicht. "In nearly 14 months since the ICC arrest warrants were issued, officials in Khartoum have done nothing but obstruct efforts for justice. The EU has to show it means what is says by taking action."

ICC Prosecutor Ocampo has previously reported that the massive international crimes being committed in Darfur, including rape, murder and displacement, will continue to occur should the world turn away and do nothing.

Also on June 16, the UN Security Council adopted a unanimous presidential statement urging the government of Sudan to cooperate fully with the court "in order to put an end to impunity for crimes in Darfur".