The United States is pushing the United Nations to follow its lead and formally declare that genocide is occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan. But Washington is encountering stiff opposition from some quarters, and indifference from others. An international declaration of genocide would be unprecedented.
After months of investigation, negotiation, and prodding by human rights groups, Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday said the evidence is clear: Sudanese Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, are guilty of genocide against black African villagers in Darfur.
"?we concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility - and genocide may still be occurring," he said.
In a speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Powell noted that the 1948 Convention on Genocide, to which both Sudan and the United States are parties, provides that any party can call on the relevant U.N. agencies to take action to prevent genocide.
The first of those agencies is the Security Council. Hours after Secretary Powell spoke, U.S. diplomats formally asked the council to authorize an international Commission of Inquiry to rule on the genocide question. A U.S. draft resolution also threatens penalties against Sudan's government if it fails to control the Janjaweed.
But at least four of the 15 council members expressed reservations about the resolution. Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said unless the measure were substantially changed, China would veto it.
"As the draft stands right now, we cannot accept it."
Reporter: "So that would mean a veto?:
Yea, if they put it for a vote," the ambassador replied.
In the face of Chinese and other objections, the measure was returned to a committee of experts charged with working out a compromise. That could take a week or more.
Several western diplomats expressed frustration at the delay, noting fresh reports of Janjaweed and Sudanese government attacks in Darfur.
An exasperated U.S. Ambassador John Danforth said while the Security Council debates, villagers in Darfur are being terrorized. "Let's think first about the primary focus right now and what we have to do," he said. "We have to save people's lives. There are people who are dying, they're dying every day and we have to try and save their lives. Now what is going to accomplish saving their lives? Is it a legalistic argument? I don't think so."
U.S. diplomats say their first choice is to work through the Security Council. But they have not ruled out several other possibilities.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard pointed out that Article Eight of the Genocide Convention provides other options, none of which has been used since the treaty came into force in 1951.
"They could bring the matter to the attention of the Secretary-General... They can ask the World Court for a legal determination whether genocide is taking place in Sudan, and they have the option of taking unilateral action through national legislation to impose national sanctions," he said.
Spokesman Eckhard said the Secretary-General has not independently used his authority to create a Commission of Inquiry, but would do so if asked.
Diplomats and legal experts say there is no clear answer as to what might happen if a formal finding of genocide were made. Article eight of the Genocide Convention has never been invoked, and every step of any case against Sudan would be over new ground.
One U.N. political officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she has mixed feelings about invoking the Genocide Convention against Sudan. She said it is bound to be a bitter and divisive process.
But looking back ten years to the massacres in Rwanda, she observed that the world needs clear guidelines on the question of genocide. The sooner they are in place, she said, the better.