U.N. Debates Darfur Peacekeepers

The U.N. Security Council is debating the extension of the mandate of a peacekeeping force for Sudan's Darfur region. It also criticized the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for trying to arrest Sudan's president.

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The president of Sudan is not likely to appear anytime soon at the International Criminal Court. There is debate in the United Nations about whether it was a productive idea to seek the arrest of Omar al-Bashir on grounds of genocide.

The debate got in the way of what was to be a routine vote to extend the mandate of a peacekeeping force for Darfur in Sudan. Some on the council fear that confronting Bashir may complicate U.N. efforts for peace. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: On a day when the Security Council talked about peacekeepers in Darfur, activists were on hand to remind the U.N. of the weakness of the force. Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition brought a helicopter on a flatbed truck and parked it across the street from the U.N.

Mr. JERRY FOWLER (President, Save Darfur Coalition): And it has a banner on it that says Send Me to Darfur. And we're just trying to highlight the ludicrousness that in the whole wide world, United Nations and its member nations cannot find 24 helicopters to help protect civilians in Darfur.

KELEMEN: But it wasn't the shortcoming to the force that complicated Security Council negotiations on a resolution to extend the peacekeeper's mandate. Several Council members also wanted this resolution to suspend for a year any legal action against Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir. The Council didn't go along with that, but a compromise resolution included language expressing some concern that the International Criminal Courts prosecutor is seeking to arrest Bashir. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch called this a marker for a battle still to come.

Mr. RICHARD DICKER (Director, Human Rights Watch International): South Africa, Libya, China and Russia are coming back. They were rebuffed at this turn, but they will be back to press the Security Council to essentially offer to the president of Sudan a get-out-of-jail-free card.

KELEMEN: Dicker is hoping that other Council members will resist that. The U.S. opposed language in the latest resolution suggesting that Bashir might get off the hook. But the ICC's prosecutor has many detractors. Among them is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who has been a longtime critic of the International Criminal Court. Bolton says the threat of an arrest warrant gives Bashir no reason to cooperate with the U.N.

Mr. JOHN BOLTON (Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): The policies that are being pursued now of putting more emphasis on the prosecution and less emphasis on an effective peacekeeping force in Darfur and less emphasis on what I think is the ultimately only successful policy, which is regime change in Khartoum, means that you're getting a psychologically satisfying outcome with no outcome in the real world.

KELEMEN: In fact, Bolton says the prosecutor's actions have had the wrong effect.

Mr. BOLTON: The irony is the Africans and the Arabs have now rallied around Bashir, and you have Libya and South Africa actively defending Bashir. Now, how has that helped solve the problem in Darfur?

KELEMEN: Bolton argues that this debate is just prolonging the agony for the people of Darfur. Dicker of Human Rights Watch has a very different view.

Mr. DICKER: The conditions for those individuals in camps had deteriorated not because of the war but because of the rampant impunity that has existed in Darfur and Sudan for crimes of this nature.

KELEMEN: Sudan's president says he will never appear before the International Criminal Court. His government is not a party to it and has not handed over other suspects who have already been indicted. Sudan has also warned that it might stop cooperating with the U.N. altogether. But so far, it is doing the opposite and seems to be on a charm offensive, issuing more visas to U.N. Peacekeeping officials and letting in more equipment for the force. Supporters of the ICC see that as one more reason to keep the pressure on.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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