The U.N. Security Council has agreed to refer Darfur war crimes cases to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The agreement breaks a months-long deadlock over accountability for perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and war crimes in western Sudan.
The Security Council voted late Thursday to send Darfur war crimes suspect to the International Criminal Court, after the United States agreed not to veto the measure.
Progress on the question of accountability for what the United States calls genocide had been stymied for weeks by U.S. objections to the ICC. The United States opposes the court on the grounds it could be used for politically motivated prosecutions.
The impasse was broken after Britain proposed a compromise that provides full immunity for U.S. personnel who might be accused of crimes while serving in Sudan.
Eleven of the 15 Council members supported the British compromise. The United States abstained, along with China, Algeria, and Brazil.
After the vote, acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Anne Patterson said Washington would have preferred the cases were referred to a U.N.-backed African court. She said U.S. abstention should not be seen as a change in Washington's opposition to the I.C.C.
"While the United States believes that the better mechanism would have been a hybrid tribunal in Africa, it is important that the international community speaks with one voice in order to help promote effective accountability," said Ms. Patterson. "The United States continues to fundamentally object to the view that the I.C.C. should be able to exercise jurisdiction over the nationals, including government officials, of states not party to the Rome Statute. This strikes at the essence of the nature of sovereignty."
Ambassador Patterson said Washington's willingness to compromise was motivated by concern about the rising death toll in Darfur. Noting estimates of least 180,000 deaths from atrocities, hunger, and disease, she said "justice must be served in Darfur".
European diplomats were jubilant at the outcome. British envoy Emyr Jones-Parry said "we have ended impunity tonight".
"We hope to promote reconciliation, political progress and above all security and safety in a country which we can hope can put behind it the troubled past," he said.
But Sudanese Ambassador Mohamed Elfatih Erwa scoffed at suggestions that The Hague tribunal could promote reconciliation in his country. Speaking through an interpreter, the Sudanese envoy called the decision to refer Darfur cases to the I.C.C. "a great good in the service of evil".
"Your council today did not settle question of accountability in Darfur, but rather it exposed the fact that this criminal court was originally intended for developing and weak countries, and it is a tool to exercise the culture of superiority and impose cultural superiority," said Mr. Erwa.
Violence erupted in Darfur more than two-years ago when rebels in the western Sudanese region rose up against the Khartoum government. The government has battled the insurgents using Arab militia known as janjaweed.
A U.N. commission of inquiry reported early this year that the janjaweed and government troops were guilty of ethnic cleansing. But the commission stopped short of using the more serious legal term genocide, as the United States did. Darfur's rebels also stand accused of committing widespread war crimes.
Thursday's resolution was the third passed by the Security Council on Sudan within a week. The first authorized a 10,00 strong peacekeeping force to enforce a north-south peace agreement signed in January. The second placed new sanctions on the warring parties in Darfur, including an arms embargo.