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US toughens stance against freezing indictment of Sudan president

August 3, 2008 (WASHINGTON) – The US administration for the first time appeared to be moving more formally in support of the International Criminal Court (ICC) work in the war torn region of Darfur.

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Alejandro Wolff, deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations (AP)

On Thursday the US made a last minute decision to abstain from voting on a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution extending the mandate of the UN-African Union (AU) hybrid force in Darfur (UNAMID).

In explaining the abstention US Representative to the UN Alejandro Wolff said his government strongly supports UNAMID but that the “language added to the resolution would send the wrong signal to the Sudanese president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and undermine efforts to bring him and others to justice”.

This is the first time Washington points fingers at Al-Bashir for his responsibility in the atrocities that occurred in Darfur.

In September 2004 the US, in a unilateral move, officially labeled the conflict in Darfur as genocide but did not name any individuals as masterminding it.

The ICC’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked pre-trial judges in mid-July to issue arrest warrants for Al-Bashir.

Ocampo filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order Al-Bashir’s arrest.

The African Union, Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) called for invoking Article 16 which allows the UNSC to suspend the ICC prosecutions in any case for a period of 12 months that can be renewed indefinitely.

Libya and South Africa sought to force a suspension in the UNAMID resolution but failed to get the required number of votes and instead accepted a watered down paragraph taking note of the AU concern on the ICC move to seek an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir.

The US deputy envoy at the UN speaking to reporters after the UNAMID vote said that the paragraph which they objected to comes at a “very important time when we are trying to eliminate the climate of impunity to deal with justice and address crimes in Darfur by suggesting there is a way out”.

“There is no compromise on the issue of justice, the climate of impunity has gone on for too long and the United States felt it was time to stand up on this point of moral clarity that this permanent member of the UNSC will not compromise on the issue of justice” he stressed.

Wolff’s statements are the clearest indication by any US official that Washington will oppose a resolution to invoke Article 16.

The 11th hour change in the US position, which angered the UNSC members, was caused by the US special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson, a UN diplomat told Sudan Tribune on Thursday.

However the delay in taking the decision to oppose the draft text of the resolution may signal a division within the US administration that was resolved through the intervention of the White House in support of Williamson against the US State Department recommendations.

But Wolff defending the last minute US position said that there was no agreement on any resolution draft and that the latest version came late Wednesday night giving little time to Washington to review it as opposed to other capitals which had the advantage of the time difference.

“We weighed the issues before us and decided that the matter at stake was too important to compromise” he said.

Asked about the US historical opposition to the ICC, Wolff insisted that his government’s hostility to the ICC “has nothing to do with impunity nothing to do with pursuit of justice nothing to do with opposition to any acts of crimes against humanity and in the case of Darfur, genocide”.

“The issue here has to do with the efforts to bring those indicted and those whose arrest is being thought to justice and end the climate of impunity. That is why we feel strongly about this paragraph” Wolff added.

Washington had threatened to veto resolution 1593 referring Darfur case to the ICC adopted in March 2005 but eventually bent down to domestic and international pressure and abstained from voting.

But China’s UN envoy Wang Guangya hinted that they may very soon introduce a resolution on deferring ICC indictment of Al-Bashir.

“The indictment of the Sudanese leader proposed by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an inappropriate decision taken at an inappropriate time” Guangya said.

“China supports the reasonable request by the African Union and other organizations for the Council to take early action to suspend the indictment of the Sudanese leader by the ICC, in accordance with the relevant provisions” he added.

But Wolff said that “this is not the time” to address the issue of invoking Article 16 of the Rome Statue and implied a US veto to any such resolution before adding that the “Chinese delegation chooses to initiate a discussion on this we will make our views known”.

“The issue before us to make clear to those who are guilty of criminal activity and complicit in the horrors that befallen on the people of Darfur that there can be no escape…anything that signals a way out or any easy way to circumvent that we believe need to be opposed” the US diplomat said.

He also said that the US “disagrees” with the AU request to block the ICC’s prosecutor request of an arrest warrant against Sudan president.

Sudan has not ratified the Rome Statue, but the UNSC triggered the provisions under the Statue that enables it to refer situations in non-State parties to the world court if it deems that it is a threat to international peace and security.