- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

The United States yesterday rejected European efforts to have the International Criminal Court prosecute war crimes committed in Sudan’s Darfur region, saying the court is accountable to no one and cannot be trusted.

“We have had a number of objections to the International Criminal Court and therefore don’t believe it’s the best option for this,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

A senior State Department official later said that allowing the ICC to take charge of the Darfur case would cut the United States out of the process, because it is not a party to the court, and that the Security Council does not exercise supervision over the tribunal.

“The ICC is a total non-starter,” the official said. “It’s not subject to any oversight, and we have a law that says we can’t cooperate with it, so it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to contribute to the case.”

Instead, the Bush administration prefers a new, Africa-based court to be set up, similar to the tribunal prosecuting those believed responsible for the genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s, which was created by the U.N. Security Council, the official said.

The United States was among the first to call attention to the mass killings of tens of thousands in Darfur and the first to call them genocide, so it would be unfair to leave it out, he added.

Washington has been pushing for harsh measures against Sudan in the Security Council, but it has not received support for economic sanctions.

“At every turn of the way, we’ve tried to say when we thought it was happening again and trying to get it to stop,” Mr. Boucher said.

The administration strongly opposed the creation of the Hague-based ICC primarily because the White House fears the court will be used for politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. officials and military personnel.

It has negotiated bilateral agreements with 69 of its 139 signatories exempting Americans on their territory from the court’s jurisdiction.

But beyond concerns about Americans, the senior official said the administration does not trust the ICC because the court “authorizes prosecutors to go out and prosecute whomever they please” anywhere in the world.

Sudan, like the United States, has neither signed nor ratified the 1998 Rome statute that created the court.

For the court to try officials in Sudan, it would set a precedent of court jurisdiction in countries that are not parties to the ICC, he said.

“We do believe that there needs to be accountability and that we will work with others to find the best possible solution to ensuring accountability,” Mr. Boucher said. “We think there are a range of options that need to be discussed and looked at.”

A Rwanda-type court is “certainly one of them,” he said. “It’s appropriate for the Security Council to create and control these kind of mechanisms.”

An administration official later made clear that a new tribunal in Africa is Washington’s preference.

A U.N. commission has been investigating reported war crimes in Darfur by Arab militias linked to the government in Khartoum, and its findings are expected as early as next week.

“When those results come out, we will look at a range of options for accountability in Darfur,” Mr. Boucher said. “We have done some discussion already with others involved in the Security Council.”

European members of the Security Council, including Britain and France, approached the United States recently to advocate putting the ICC in charge of Darfur cases, but Washington resisted, officials said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan seemed to be siding with the Europeans on Wednesday when he said the ICC was the “most logical place” to deal with Darfur.

“They need to be held accountable so that we don’t give the impression that impunity is allowed to stand,” Mr. Annan said of the those responsible for the atrocities.

The dispute over the ICC is the second major disagreement to arise between the United States and Europe a month before President Bush’s much-publicized trip to the continent.

The other one involves the European Union’s plan to lift its arms embargo against China.

Earlier this week, an official Sudanese committee of inquiry determined that serious human rights abuses were committed in Darfur, but it rejected claims of ethnic cleansing and systematic rape, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Serious human rights violations took place in the three states of Darfur, in which all parties to the conflict were involved to varying degrees, thus leading to human suffering of the people of Darfur, causing internal displacement and people taking refuge in neighboring Chad,” the committee said.

“The commission has concluded that incidents of rape and sexual abuses took place in the various states of Darfur, but it has not been proven to the commission that there was systematic and widespread abuse that would constitute a crime against humanity,” the report said.

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