Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Opposition to International Criminal Court May Preclude a Hearing on Darfur

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Opposition to International Criminal Court May Preclude a Hearing on Darfur

Article excerpt

On March 2 Human Rights Watch released a videotape in which Musa Hilal, a top leader of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur, told the interviewers that the government of Sudan directed all military activities of the militia forces. "All of the people in the field are led by top army commanders," he said. "The highest rank is major, and officers, and some sergeants, and some captains, and so on. These people get their orders from the western command center, and from Khartoum."

Admittedly, he denied any atrocities-but then, he would, wouldn't he? In fact, it seems very likely that Hilal is on the list of individuals that the Inquiry appended, but kept confidential, of suspects that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be prosecuting.

Hilal's testimony hampers those who are trying to "reward" Khartoum for agreeing to peace in the south, while targeting only those specifically responsible for atrocities in Darfur. According to Hilal's evidence, they are the same people.

As we go to press diplomats are still in backroom negotiations on technical details about the proposed resolution on Darfur. While they are haggling about what sanctions, if any, to impose on the perpetrators, the real issue around which the diplomats are circling warily is whether or not the U.S. will be ideologically blinkered enough to vote against a resolution that refers the events in the province to the ICC.

Not surprisingly, the ICC is the only option the Khartoum government fears-but the Bush White House spent its last term doing everything it could to undermine the court. Ironically, when the Rome Treaty establishing the court was set up, allies of the U.S. and friends of the ICC inside the U.S. legal profession argued sincerely that U.S. courts and laws would ensure that no Americans need ever appear before it. That was the Pentagon-and Israeli-fear then being pandered to by the Clinton administration.

Four years, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and a whole global gulag of special prisons for Muslims later, no one could really put their hands on their hearts anymore and swear to inherent American innocence. But the ICC-as Bush's close fnend Tony Blair still maintains-is the world's best hope, specifically designed for events in places like Sudan, Rwanda or Bosnia.

Ironically, the Bush administration has been trying to win brownie points at home by maintaining that what is taking place in Darfur is "genocide," even though the U.N. Commission of Inquiry ruled differently. Eloquently horrifying in its descriptions of massacres and atrocities, the U.N. report declared unequivocally that mass murders and rapes were taking place and that they amounted to crimes no less heinous than genocide.

Both the commission and the U.N., however, have come under attack from American elements united in ignorance on both left and right who want to see the talismanic word "genocide" attached to it.

After the report was issued, Annan told a press conference that "there is no doubt that serious crimes have been committed, serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights have taken place and this cannot be allowed to stand. An action will have to be taken regardless of what name one gives to it."

A finding of genocide does create international legal obligations to intervene, which is why the Clinton administration was so careful to avoid using the "G" word over Rwanda and Bosnia. But the Bush administration's insistence on its applicability in Darfur seems, if anything, designed to avoid action. Sudan has not ratified the ICC convention, but the security Council can refer to the Court the type of war crimes being perpetrated in Darfur. Even though the U.S., which has a veto, has nothing to fear from this procedure, it is obsessed with the strange theological quirks that beset it.

Also at the beginning of March, it was revealed that the government of Iraq, which had decided to ratify the ICC treaty, had, without any public discussion, decided to change its mind. …

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