U.S. diplomats have approached the U.N. Security Council about ways of prosecuting those responsible for atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region. The discussions are stalled over Washington's opposition to the International Criminal Court.
Days before a U.N. commission of inquiry issues its opinion on whether genocide has been committed in Darfur, a senior U.S. diplomat went to the Security Council Thursday for private talks about bringing those responsible to justice.
Ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues Pierre-Richard Prosper indicated his talks were focusing on what he called "the principle of accountability".
The United States used the term "genocide" last year in describing the massacre of civilians in Darfur, and is pushing for prosecutions.
But diplomats who have been briefed on the U.N. commission's report say it stops short of using the word genocide, a term that carries serious legal consequences. Instead, the report is said to describe the killings as "widespread atrocities".
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Stuart Holliday says whatever the commission concludes, those responsible must be held to account.
"Accountability is absolutely central," he said. "Of course, the United States was a strong proponent of the Commission of Inquiry, and so we're discussing right now with our Council colleagues how the Council will respond. First it's important to look at the report itself. There will be, as we understand it, I think, very compelling and descriptive evidence of atrocities. And I think everyone on the Council would like an accountability process that reflects the severity of the problem."
European and other Council diplomats, however, say a main sticking point in the talks is Washington's opposition to bringing Darfur issues before the newly-established International Criminal Court.
Most Council members and Secretary-General Kofi Annan have said the court should have jurisdiction in the case.
The United States is not a party to the treaty that created the International Criminal Court, and says it fails to provide adequate safeguards against politically motivated prosecutions.
Ambassador Holliday says Washington is hoping to negotiate a compromise alternative.
"Our position on the International Criminal Court is well known and our position on accountability for atrocities is also well known," he added. "We will look for a way ahead on this that works and reflects the positions that the United States has taken, but will also be effective."
The United States is also talking with other countries at the United Nations about possible new sanctions against the parties responsible for abuses in Darfur.
The conflict in Darfur broke out nearly two years ago when rebel groups in the region took up arms against what they called years of neglect by the government in Khartoum. The government's response included arming Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who are accused of large-scale abuses against black African civilians.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and an estimated 1.8 million others have been forced to flee the homes.