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US Backs Darfur Crimes Prosecution, But Not in International Criminal Court

The United States says there must be accountability for war crimes in Sudan's western Darfur region. But it says an African-based tribunal should handle such cases, and not the International Criminal Court, as proposed by a U.N. Commission.

The Bush administration says it welcomes the U.N. commission report on Darfur and says it hopes it produces stronger action by the United Nations against perpetrators of crimes there, including new sanctions.

But it opposes a referral of Darfur crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC) about which it has long-standing political concerns.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said there is no requirement that the case go to the ICC. He said the United States believes there are sound political and logistical reasons for having the existing African war crimes tribunal in Tanzania take up the case.

"There are a number of advantages of doing it that way,” said Mr. Boucher. “I mentioned it would involve the Africans, the African Union, in playing a continuing role for accountability, as they have played in trying to stop the crisis in Darfur to begin with. It also has the practical advantage of building on the existing infrastructure of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. That would allow the Sudan tribunal to commence more rapidly, take advantage of the expertise and lessons learned in dealing with the crimes for Rwanda."

Though the United States originally signed the treaty setting up the ICC, the Bush administration withdrew from it, arguing that the court has no controlling authority, and could be used to conduct frivolous trials against U.S. troops stationed abroad.

In addition to its fundamental opposition to the ICC, Mr. Boucher said the United States questions whether the court would have jurisdiction over crimes in Sudan that occurred before it was set up in 2002.

The State Department generally praised the U.N. commission report on Darfur, even though its findings stopped short of declaring outright that crimes of the Sudanese government and its Arab Janjaweed militia allies in Darfur were genocide.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell made a finding of genocide last September following a U.S. investigation that included interviews with thousands of Darfur refugees in Chad.

Senior U.S. officials say they hope the report will give new impetus to stalled efforts in the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions against Sudan, its militia allies and Darfur rebels found to be violating a year-old ceasefire accord.

Spokesman Boucher said the United States is talking to other Security Council member states about a range of punitive measures, including oil-related sanctions and the extension of an arms embargo against the Khartoum government, as well as targeted travel and economic sanctions against individuals linked to Darfur crimes.

He said the United States is also pushing to supplement the African Union cease-fire monitoring and protection force being deployed in Darfur with a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping force.