(New York) - Members of the United Nations Security Council should use the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor's briefing on his Darfur investigation on December 9, 2010, to send a strong message to Sudan to cooperate with the court, Human Rights Watch said today.
The ICC prosecutor's briefing comes one month ahead of Sudan's referendum on self-determination for the southern part of the country, scheduled for January 2011.
"Security Council members shouldn't let Sudan's upcoming vote detract from the government's obligation to cooperate with the ICC on Darfur," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "Turning a blind eye to justice can cause instability down the road."
International attention has shifted from Darfur to implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended Sudan's 22-year civil war, and the important upcoming referendum. While countries have a range of interests in relation to Sudan, insistence on cooperation with the ICC should nevertheless remain a priority if impunity is to be overcome, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch's research in many countries has shown that the failure to hold perpetrators of the most serious international crimes to account can fuel future abuses.
Intensified fighting between government and rebel forces, and among other armed groups, has killed hundreds of civilians in Darfur so far in 2010. In early September, government-supported militias attacked Tabra market in North Darfur, killing at least 37 civilians. A government pledge to investigate alleged human rights and humanitarian law violations there has yet to yield prosecutions. Government attacks on several villages in eastern Jebel Marra in late September and early October led to additional civilian deaths, mass displacements, and destruction of civilian property.
Addressing ICC member states this week, the ICC prosecutor announced that his office is considering pursuing additional cases in the Darfur investigation. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged the prosecutor to conduct additional investigations and bring further cases against senior Sudanese officials involved in crimes in Darfur. The prospect of additional cases is consistent with Human Rights Watch's finding that Sudan has not yet taken meaningful steps to prosecute serious abuses occurring in the Darfur conflict. The ICC remains the sole forum through which meaningful investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed in Darfur are taking place, Human Rights Watch said.
In 2005, the Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC under Resolution 1593, which obligates Sudan to cooperate with the court. On June 16, 2008, the Security Council reaffirmed this commitment in a unanimous presidential statement calling on the government of Sudan and parties to the conflict to cooperate with the court.
The ICC has issued arrest warrants for three individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide as part of its Darfur investigation. In April 2007, the court issued warrants for Ahmed Haroun, then the country's minister for humanitarian affairs and now governor of Southern Kordofan state, and Ali Kosheib, whose real name is Ali Mohammed Ali, a "Janjaweed" militia leader. In March 2009, the court issued the first of two arrest warrants for Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir. The prosecutor is also pursuing cases against three Darfuri rebel leaders for an attack carried out on September 29, 2007, which killed 12 African Union peacekeepers at a base in Haskanita, Darfur.
Following three years of inaction by Sudan to hand over any of the suspects, the ICC prosecutor on April 19 asked the court to issue a finding of non-cooperation in the execution of warrants for Haroun and Kosheib under article 87 of the Rome Statute, which established the court. On May 25, the ICC made an unprecedented decision to send the finding of non-cooperation on the arrest warrants to the Security Council, "for the Security Council to take any action it may deem appropriate." The council has a range of options to respond to the ICC's finding, such as resolutions, sanctions, and presidential statements.
"It has been months since the ICC asked the Security Council to act on Sudan's failure to cooperate," Dicker said. "Security Council members should use the opportunity of the prosecutor's briefing to press for Sudan's cooperation and demonstrate their concern for justice in Darfur."
The briefing on Darfur takes place as representatives of the ICC's 114 member countries meet in New York at the Assembly of States Parties. Strengthening state cooperation with the ICC was featured among the topics for the meeting. The Assembly of States Parties was created by the Rome Statute to provide management oversight of the court's administration. It consists of representatives of each state member and is required to meet at least once a year.