December 15th, 2006 11:55 EST
International Court Close to Filing Darfur War Crimes Charges
United Nations -- The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) told the Security Council December 15 that he has enough evidence of "willful killings, massive rapes and pillaging of entire cities" to charge a number of individuals with war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan by February 2007.
In Washington, a senior U.S. diplomat reaffirmed support for a hybrid peacekeeping force made up of United Nations and African Union troops. The United States also is willing to consider a "no-fly zone" to protect civilians in Darfur.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said there is "sufficient evidence to identify those who bear the greatest responsibility for some of the worst crimes in Darfur," including torture, murder and rape, but declined to reveal the names of those under investigation or say how many are involved. Presentation of the first case, Moreno-Ocampo said, "sends a signal to those who are considering committing further crimes that they cannot do so with impunity."
The prosecutor told the 15-nation Security Council that the perpetrators of atrocities "are standing in the way of progress towards peace and security in Darfur, as well as the neighboring states."
Despite the Darfur Peace Agreement, he said, "there continue to be almost daily allegations of serious crimes, some of which may fall within the jurisdiction of the court.
"Violent clashes between factions inside movements, as well as between the different movements, have led to significant numbers of civilians being killed," Moreno-Ocampo said. There are also reports of continued attacks on civilians by armed militias supported by elements of the Sudanese security forces and numerous reports of rape and sexual assaults.
The prosecutor said he also is collecting information on attacks on humanitarian personnel and peacekeepers, who are under ICC jurisdiction. From July to September, there were reports of 21 humanitarian vehicles hijacked and more than 31 convoys ambushed and looted. These incidents led to the deaths of six humanitarian workers and two military observers.
Saying he could not investigate all the alleged incidents, Moreno-Ocampo said he is focusing on incidents that occurred in 2003 and 2004 "in a location where the highest numbers of crimes were recorded."
Investigators have collected evidence from victims and Sudanese officials, and from documents collected by governments and international organizations, the prosecutor said. The investigators have conducted more than 70 missions to 17 countries, screening hundreds of potential witnesses and taking more than 100 formal witness statements, he added.
Sudan has said it has arrested 14 individuals for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses and has tried 30 suspects, including 18 low-ranking military officers. But Moreno-Ocampo said Sudan's judiciary actions were not sufficient to negate the jurisdiction of the ICC cases.
The prosecutor said he will ask Sudan to cooperate with ICC investigators who plan to visit the country in January 2007 by providing documents and granting access to the individuals in custody.
In January 2005, the Commission of Inquiry concluded that Sudan's justice system was "unable and unwilling to address the situation in Darfur." (See related article.)
In March 2005, the Security Council referred the issue of war crimes in Darfur to the ICC, as recommended by the Commission of Inquiry.
UNITED STATES SUPPORTS HYBRID FORCE, WILL NOT RULE OUT "NO-FLY ZONE"
The United States continues to support a hybrid U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force approved in November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a senior U.S. diplomat told reporters December 14. Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, also said the United States would consider airspace restrictions for the Darfur region, a so-called "no-fly zone" that Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair has raised as a possible option to help halt the violence there. (See related article.)
U.S. support for such a zone "depends on the overall strategy," Frazer said. As the international community develops an overall strategy and negotiates with the government of Sudan to get "a credible and effective force into Darfur to save lives," Frazer said, "every option should be on the table."
She described the no-fly zone as "a very good option," adding: "Let’s be clear, it’s a compromise. It was a compromise that was suggested by President [Hosni] Mubarak of Egypt. It’s a good idea."
Negotiations for a possible hybrid force are being conducted in a number of capitals by Andrew Natsios, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan. (See related article.)
Frazer stressed that the Addis Ababa agreement on a hybrid force includes a provision for the United Nations to play a role in the command and control of the force.
The United Nations "has the systems, it has the organization to actually carry out the command and control," Frazer said, noting that African Union forces in the region were recently captured by civilians. "They need leadership," Frazer said.
For further information on U.S. policy, see Darfur Humanitarian Emergency.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Judy Aita
USINFO United Nations Correspondent