Sudan, African States Oppose Int'l Trial for Darfur Suspects

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Some legal experts in Africa are welcoming a U.N. Security Council resolution recommending international prosecution of war criminals in Sudan's Darfur region, but Khartoum continues to reject what it calls an "unfair" decision.

African governments also are opposed to the move.

Sudan's embassy in Nairobi on Thursday condemned the council, saying in a statement the U.N. body had chosen to ignore an African Union initiative calling for suspected Darfur war criminals to be prosecuted in Khartoum.

"This ill-timed resolution proves beyond any doubt the double standards practices of the council due to the domination of the biased Western powers as a result of the imbalanced composition of the council," the statement said.

Last month, the 53-member African Union (AU) urged the Security Council "to relinquish the issue of the trial of persons involved in Darfur incidents."

AU chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said the issue was an African-Sudanese affair and the AU was looking for an "acceptable means of bringing the culprits in violation of human rights in Darfur to book."

An estimated 180,000 people have died and about two million have been displaced in fighting between two rebel groups and government-backed militiamen accused of atrocities. The U.N. has called it the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

A legal expert here said the Security Council resolution referring 51 war crimes suspects to the new International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague was "a good start to making criminal jurisdiction universal."

Michael Nderitu of the International Commission of Jurists said the resolution would go a long way to deter those intended to start civil wars in African countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan early this week handed the names of the 51 suspects and supporting documents to the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo.

The documents, drawn up by a U.N. commission investigating allegations of killings, torture and rape in Darfur, names Sudanese government and army officials as well as militia and rebel leaders.

In Khartoum, President Omar al-Bashir has rejected the resolution.

"I swear thrice in the name of Almighty Allah that I shall never hand any Sudanese national to a foreign court," he said in a speech to his ruling National Congress' consultative council last weekend.

His ministers' council said the resolution "violates the principle of national sovereignty," and tens of thousands of Sudanese have protested outside a U.N. building and Western embassies in Khartoum.

The Washington-based advocacy group Africa Action welcomed the U.N. resolution, but said more urgent steps were needed to stop killings of civilians in Darfur.

The U.S. should "do everything necessary" to secure another resolution, authorizing a multinational intervention force to strengthen the efforts of an AU contingent already on the ground and to stop the killings, it said in a statement.

"There is a pressing need for a rapid and robust international intervention in Darfur to protect civilians, to enforce the ceasefire and to facilitate a massive expansion of humanitarian operations," Africa Action representative Ann-Louise Colgan said.

"Unless such an intervention is mounted immediately, up to a million people could be dead by the end of this year."

In Geneva Thursday, Annan faulted the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for failing to protect against rights abuses in places like Darfur.

"For all of us, as individuals and as an institution, this situation is a test," he said. "For thousands of men, women and children, our response is already too late."

Annan is recommending that the 53-member rights commission, which currently meets once a year for a six-week session, be replaced by a smaller, standing human rights council, whose members are elected and held to the highest human rights standards.

Among the commission's current 53 members are Sudan, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe, six of the world's 18 "most repressive regimes" as designated by Freedom House in its recently-released annual report.

Last year, the commission voted to express concern about the situation in Darfur, issuing a "chairman's statement" rather than a formal condemnation of Sudan.

It called on all parties to the conflict to respect a ceasefire and to grant access to humanitarian groups. The statement also set up an independent expert to report back on the situation at this year's Geneva meeting.

"This is a very meager response to a situation that is at the point of spiraling into a full-fledged human rights catastrophe," human rights group Amnesty International responded at the time.

(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)

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