A U.N. commission on Sudan has concluded that systematic, government-backed violence in the western region of Darfur was not genocide, but that there was evidence of crimes against humanity with an ethnic dimension.
The report documents violations of international human rights law, incidents of war crimes by militias and the rebels fighting them, and names individuals who may have acted with a “genocidal intention.” But there was not sufficient evidence to indicate that Khartoum had a state policy intended to exterminate a particular racial or ethnic group, said diplomats familiar with the report.
It recommends referring the cases to the International Criminal Court, but leaves other options open. The United States, which opposes the court, has proposed a war crimes tribunal in Tanzania to prosecute atrocities committed in Darfur.
The report was submitted Thursday to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan by a five-member independent commission he assigned in October to investigate violations of human rights in Darfur, determine whether acts of genocide occurred and identify the perpetrators. It is not expected to be made public until Sudan has a chance to review the assessment, and until it has been presented to the Security Council, expected next week.
The commission, headed by Antonio Cassese, an Italian judge, had to reconvene after the report was completed because of disagreements over whether to identify implicated government officials who may be in charge of implementing Sudan’s new peace plan with its southern rebels, said diplomats familiar with the discussions. Sudan’s ambassador to Washington, Khidir Haroun Ahmed, said he understood that the names would not be disclosed until a court had concluded that there was evidence for prosecution.
“It would not be in the benefit of peacemaking to jump to hasty conclusions and blame the government without 100% evidence because that will weaken the government as a partner for peace,” he said.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Darfur and nearly 2 million have been displaced since rebel groups took up arms against government forces in early 2003. Militias linked to the government are accused of numerous killings and rapes in the rebels’ region.
The U.S. State Department concluded in September that genocide had occurred in Darfur based on interviews with about 1,800 refugees in neighboring Chad. Their accounts indicated a pattern of targeted violence coordinated by the Sudanese government and state-backed militias, the State Department said.
But the designation appeared to put more pressure on the U.S. to act than on Sudan. The Security Council has declined to place sanctions on Sudan, instead offering rewards for cementing a peace agreement in a separate conflict between the north and south that they hope would shore up a settlement in Darfur.
That peace agreement was signed this month, but the move has yet to halt the conflict in Darfur. A rise in violence has displaced thousands of civilians and obstructed access for aid workers. Cease-fire monitors from the African Union reported an aerial bombing by government planes in South Darfur as recently as Wednesday.
With the fighting continuing despite international censure, diplomats and human rights groups are seeking an effective deterrent. For many European and African countries, the answer seems to be prosecutions by the International Criminal Court.
“This is a watershed moment for the ICC,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said. “It is an opportunity for the court to show what it was made for.”
But the Bush administration is torn between its desire to bring killers in Khartoum to justice and its opposition to the ICC, Roth said. Washington is afraid that the court will be used for politicized prosecutions of Americans. As an alternative, the U.S. has proposed that the U.N. and the African Union establish a court in Arusha, Tanzania, the headquarters of the Rwanda tribunal, for the prosecution of Darfur’s war crimes, U.S. officials said.
Russia and China, which have been the main opponents of sanctions on Sudan, have voiced tentative support for sending the case to the ICC.
Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said his country would help Sudan progress toward peace. Asked whether that included a referral to the ICC, he said China would defer to the African Union’s decision. “They know what is best for Sudan better than we do,” he said.
Sudan last week completed its own inquiry on allegations of genocide and human rights abuse, with results that on the surface, are similar to the U.N. commission’s.
The Sudanese inquiry concluded that massive human rights violations by the military, rebel groups and warring tribes occurred, but that the violence did not constitute genocide. The report draws a comparison with genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, and says that unlike those mass exterminations, there was no state policy with the goal of eradicating a particular group. They found evidence that government forces had bombed areas hosting armed opposition, and had killed civilians.
The committee also recommended a redistribution of land and water rights in Darfur to balance the needs of farmers and nomad grazers that have been at the root of tribal clashes.
The decision on whether or how to prosecute was left to a legal committee, which has not yet reached a conclusion, the report said. But Ahmed, the ambassador in Washington, said that if the international community acknowledged that rebels also had committed war crimes, not just the government and militias, then it would be “very logical” to send all the cases to the ICC. “Justice should apply to all people,” Ahmed said.