(New York)- The Security Council's renewal of the mandate for peacekeepers in Darfur without delaying legal proceedings against Sudan's president reaffirms a commitment to justice and security for Sudanese civilians, Human Rights Watch said today.

At Security Council discussions to renew the mandate for the hybrid African Union-United Nations force, Libya and South Africa tried to insert language to halt consideration by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges of an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. Concerned that the agreed compromise resolution sent too weak a message about bringing al-Bashir to justice, the US abstained on the vote.

"The Security Council refused to allow some members to hold the peacekeepers hostage to Sudan's latest attempt to derail justice," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "The US decision to abstain is clearly a vote against giving President al-Bashir a get-out-of-jail-free card."

On July 14, 2008, the prosecutor of the ICC requested a warrant for al-Bashir's arrest on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for orchestrating the abusive counterinsurgency campaign in Sudan's Darfur region. The government of Sudan has sought to block the issuance of an arrest warrant against al-Bashir by convincing African states on the Security Council to seek a delay at the ICC.

In March 2005, the United States abstained in a Security Council vote referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC, because of its concern about the court. Human Rights Watch said its July 31 abstention is particularly noteworthy as an expression of support for justice and the ICC process.

The Rome Statute establishing the ICC contains a provision, article 16, which allows the Security Council, acting under its Chapter VII authority to maintain peace and security, to defer an ICC investigation or prosecution for 12 months.

"The Security Council told the court to investigate the crimes in Darfur and its members should stand by that commitment to seek justice there. This attempt to halt the ICC's work is blatant political interference with an independent court," said Dicker.

In the three years since the Security Council referred Darfur to the ICC, the Sudanese government has continued to violate international humanitarian law as well as numerous Security Council resolutions with impunity. Even since the prosecutor requested the warrant two weeks ago, there have been reports of at least two attacks on villages by government forces. Nor has Sudan made any serious effort to hold perpetrators to account for grave crimes in its national courts.

The peace process in Darfur has been stalled for at least nine months on grounds wholly unrelated to the ICC investigations or to the requested warrant for al-Bashir. Meanwhile, Sudan has so obstructed and delayed deployment of the hybrid UN Assistance Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) that, on its first anniversary, barely one third of the force is deployed. There has been no change to the situation on the ground in Darfur that would warrant concessions of any kind to the government of Sudan at this time.

Since the ICC issued its first two warrants in April 2007, Khartoum has refused all cooperation with the court, despite Sudan's legal obligations under Security Council resolution 1593. On June 5, the ICC prosecutor briefed the council, stating that his investigation in Darfur found a "criminal plan based on the mobilization of the whole state apparatus, including the armed forces, the intelligence services, the diplomatic and public information bureaucracies, and the justice system." On June 16, the Security Council unanimously adopted a presidential statement calling on the government of Sudan to cooperate with the ICC.