By Rupert CornwellIndependent
January 31, 2005
A special United Nations commission has decided that two years of violence in the western Sudan region of Darfur was not genocide but "crimes against humanity with ethnic dimensions", according to leaks of the report in the US.
The commission, led by the Italian judge Antonio Cassese, documents breaches of international human rights law and other war crimes, and names individuals who may have acted with "genocidal intent". But it failed to find evidence that the government in Khartoum, widely accused of backing the militias, had a specific policy of exterminating a particular ethnic group, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The report is to be made public this week, after it goes to the Security Council. But it could set off a new dispute between the US and its key allies. In September, the State Department said the murder of tens of thousands of people in Darfur, and the forced uprooting of 1.8 million more, did constitute genocide. It spoke of a pattern of targeted violence, co-ordinated by the government and committed by state-backed militias.
Even more problematic however than semantics could be the report's leaked recommendation that war crimes and human rights violations should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), an institution backed by Europe and most African countries, but strenuously opposed by the US. As a result, the Bush administration is caught in a tug-of-war, between its desire to punish those responsible for what it has declared a genocide, and its dislike of the ICC, which it believes will turn into a vehicle for anti-Americanism, and politically motivated prosecutions of US troops and officials.
Instead, Washington has proposed a special court, akin to the war crimes tribunal that prosecuted the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But Europe, Africa and Russia and China, which opposed sanctions on the Sudanese government, have indicated they favour the ICC. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Darfur represented a "watershed moment" for the new international court. But there are concerns about whether Britain will temper its support for the ICC.
Yesterday Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, insisted that despite the reluctance of Russia and China, the Security Council should still consider sanctions against Sudan. "Serious violations of international humanitarian law, and gross violations of human rights have taken place," Mr Annan told reporters during an African Union summit in Nigeria. "Action will have to be taken. The council had considered sanctions and had not been able to move forward because of some divisions, but I believe sanctions should still be on the table."
This month, a peace agreement was signed in the 21- year-old civil war between north and south in Sudan but African Union ceasefire monitors said 100 people were killed by bombs dropped by Sudanese government aircraft in southern Darfur only last Wednesday. Lord Alton of Liverpool, who visited Darfur last October, said: "The long-awaited UN commission on events in Darfur has, in effect, given the government of Sudan permission to continue killing its black African population with impunity."
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