Stopping short

A U.N. report says that the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, constitutes "crimes against humanity," but not genocide.

By Ewen MacAskill
Published February 1, 2005 1:31PM (EST)

The Sudanese government should be referred to the international criminal court for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur, a United Nations-commissioned report has concluded. But the study, which is expected to be debated by the U.N. Security Council Tuesday, falls short of describing the situation in the western region of Sudan as genocide.

The report, by a five-member commission headed by Italian judge Antonio Cassese, is due to be published Tuesday. The study was requested by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in October to investigate whether genocide was being conducted in Darfur, where tens of thousands have been killed and 1.8 million displaced.

A U.N. source said Monday that the commission's conclusion was that the testimony it took did not amount to proof of genocide. "But it does say crimes against humanity of an ethnic nature have been committed and recommends going to the ICC [International Criminal Court]."

A diplomat described the commission's findings as "hard-hitting." Another diplomat close to the Security Council said: "The Sudanese government is not getting off."

The report includes a confidential annex naming members of the Sudanese military and government the commission identifies as perpetrators of the alleged crimes. Although the Sudanese government was given a copy of the report in advance, the U.N. withheld the annex. Members of the commission told diplomats they did not want to prejudice the outcome of any trial by publishing the names. They also said that the testimony they took was not under oath and therefore would not stand up in court, and that a more thorough investigation with a view to a trial would be needed.

The Sudanese foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, said in Abuja, Nigeria: "We have a copy of that report, and they didn't say there is a genocide." A conclusion that genocide had been committed would have imposed an obligation on the international community to intervene in Darfur. The Sudanese, though relieved they are not being accused of genocide, will dispute the findings.

Referral to the ICC poses a dilemma for the United States. Washington wants action against the Sudanese government, but it has boycotted the ICC because it refuses to allow anyone other than U.S. courts to have jurisdiction over American troops who might, in theory, be accused of war crimes. But the U.S. may find the ICC, which has all the needed staff and logistics in place, preferable to the creation of an independent tribunal similar to the one on Rwanda, which Washington criticized as too expensive.

The international community has been torn on the Darfur issue, with some urging economic sanctions or military intervention against the Sudanese government and others, including the British government, preferring to try to cajole the Sudanese government into resolving the crisis.

Darfur is likely to dominate the U.N. Security Council meeting this week and next. Annan is to present detailed proposals about the dispatch of 10,000 U.N. troops to police a cease-fire in another Sudanese conflict -- between north and south -- and is likely to include a reference to Darfur.

Both the government and rebels fighting in Darfur Monday confirmed that a new round of peace talks had been agreed to for this month.

Ewen MacAskill

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