The United States joined U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Thursday in urging Sudan to reconsider its announced expulsion of leading international aid agencies active in war-torn Darfur. Sudan took the action after the International Criminal Court, the ICC, issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir for Darfur war crimes.
Though it does not have fully-normal relations with Sudan, the State Department says the United States is urging Sudanese officials both in Khartoum and at the United Nations in New York to rescind the expulsions, which is says are contrary to Sudan's own best interests.
Sudanese authorities revoked the operating licenses of the aid organizations, including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and Care International, only hours after the long-anticipated ICC action against President Bashir.
Sudanese officials accused the groups of passing information on Darfur atrocities to the ICC, a charge vehemently denied by the aid organizations. State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters the United States hopes Sudan will reconsider an action that harms many of Sudan's most-vulnerable people.
"The action announced seems to me to be against Sudan's own interest, and is certainly not helpful to the people who need aid in that country. They should reconsider their position on this, because the vulnerable populations throughout Sudan rely heavily on the international organizations who deliver them much-needed aid," he said.
The United States is not a party to the ICC, but it has supported the charges against President Bashir, saying that those who committed atrocities in Darfur should be held accountable for their crimes.
Duguid described President Bashir, who has denied any wrongdoing, as a fugitive from justice, and said the charges against him can be what he termed "a lever" for the international community to help bring peace to Darfur.
China, another non-signatory of the ICC and a major trading partner of Sudan, has joined several Arab states in urging that the case against the Sudanese leader be suspended. But Duguid made clear the United States opposes delaying the legal process.
"What we are looking for is a resolution to the conflicts in Sudan. This current move by the ICC has added a lever, if you will, with which to try and achieve that. Those who are guilty of crimes against humanity should face justice. The delay or deferment of the ICC warrant is not something the United States is looking at right now," he said.
The Bush administration, concerned that the ICC lacked accountability, withdrew former President Bill Clinton's signature on the Rome Statute setting up the court. But it later made a formal determination that government-inspired violence in Darfur amounted to genocide, and provided some support for the ICC's prosecution of the case.
The Obama administration is reviewing U.S. policy with regard to the court though officials say concerns about its operations remain.