Hurdles Cited in the Investigation of Darfur Crimes

The main prosecutor for the newly created International Criminal Court told U.N. Security Council Wednesday that the security situation in Darfur has made his job difficult. The Security Council referred the Sudan atrocities investigation to the ICC nine months ago.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The newly created International Criminal Court seems to be having a hard time in one of its first assignments, investigating atrocities in Darfur in western Sudan. The UN Security Council referred Darfur to the court nine months ago. Yesterday, the main prosecutor told the council that the security situation in Darfur has made his job difficult. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo says he's looking into allegations of grave crimes in Darfur, mass killings and rapes, but there's one big problem. He can't provide protection for witnesses.

Mr. LUIS MORENO OCAMPO (Prosecutor): The continuing insecurities in Darfur do not allow for an effective system of victim and witness protections. This has forced my office to investigate outside Darfur.

KELEMEN: Moreno Ocampo says his team has been interviewing witnesses in 17 countries. He says he needs more cooperation from Sudan and from the African Union which has a monitoring force in Darfur. There is a new twist there, however. Sudan is poised to take the rotating chair of the African Union in January. Georgette Gagnon of Human Rights Watch calls this a travesty because the AU has been mediating in Darfur and the government of Sudan is a party to the conflict.

Ms. GEORGETTE GAGNON (Human Rights Watch): In addition, top-level Sudanese officials are very likely responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. They should not be given the chair of the AU. This would be a real slap in the face to all the African victims of atrocities in Darfur.

KELEMEN: In a report out this week, Human Rights Watch said militia leaders and government officials right up to the country's president should be investigated for ordering, condoning or carrying out atrocities in Darfur. Sudan immediately dismissed the report as ridiculous and baseless, but Gagnon says it was a result of two and a half years of investigative work.

Ms. GAGNON: We're not at all surprised by the reaction of the Sudanese government. They have denied that they are involved and responsible for atrocities for two and a half years.

KELEMEN: The lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has not brought any charges against anyone yet. Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Emyr Jones Parry, said the prosecutor reassured Security Council members in private that every lead will be followed.

Ambassador EMYR JONES PARRY (Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations): What the prosecutor told us was that the nature of the attacks in Darfur demonstrated a degree of coordination which implied that someone was in command and control of that operation. His intention is to ascertain who it was and hold them responsible.

KELEMEN: Human rights groups have blasted the UN Security Council for not following up on its threat to impose targeted sanctions on individuals linked to atrocities. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the security situation has not improved in Darfur.

Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN (United Nations): We have criminal elements. We have violence. We have attacks on humanitarian activities. There are some areas where our humanitarian people cannot go and, therefore, the government and the rebels have to honor the peace cease-fire agreement they signed.

KELEMEN: The issue of Darfur is also getting some attention here in Washington this week. Several members of Congress are trying to get $50 million for African Union monitors into the defense appropriations bill after the money promised by the Bush administration was stripped from another bill.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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