Global Policy Forum

US Floats Plan for Its Own Tribunal to


By Jess Bravin

Wall Street Journal
January 28, 2005

The Bush administration is fashioning a plan to set up an ad hoc tribunal in Tanzania to address alleged genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, sidestepping the International Criminal Court whose supporters hold a majority of votes on the United Nations Security Council. The proposal, floated with diplomats in New York and lawmakers in Washington, would meet the administration's twin goals of confronting atrocities in Sudan and shunning the ICC, an independent tribunal with 97 members including European Union countries, Australia and Canada. The proposed tribunal would be organized under the auspices of the African Union, rather than the U.N., but would share some facilities with the U.N.'s war-crimes tribunal for Rwanda, which holds proceedings in Arusha, Tanzania, people familiar with the proposal said.

The plan received a chilly reception at the U.N., and U.S. officials recognize that even if the Security Council can be persuaded to go along, the new court will get little financial assistance from other nations. A congressional aide said the U.S. expects to pick up the proposed tribunal's funding, which could be included in $80 billion supplemental appropriation the administration is seeking for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Congressional and administration officials wouldn't put a price tag on the plan, but the annual budgets of current ad hoc tribunals range from $20 million for the Special Court for Sierra Leone to more than $100 million each for the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia tribunals.

The ICC's advocates consider the three-year-old tribunal a major advance in human rights, but big military powers including the U.S., China and Russia haven't joined the court. The Bush administration argues the ICC could someday launch political prosecutions of Americans for their actions abroad. No Americans are implicated in the Darfur atrocities, but the U.S. wants to deny the ICC the legitimacy it could gain from a Security Council referral.

But a Security Council diplomat said ICC members want the Hague tribunal involved "on point of principle as well as practical terms." Since the aim of the ICC was to create a permanent court of last resort for crimes against humanity, "you're not going to persuade people to pay twice" solely because of American hostility to the ICC.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the plan, other than to say that discussions with other nations were continuing. But a U.S. official familiar with the matter said that "what looks good about it is you have an African role in this." The official said the tribunal's shape still was being debated within the administration, but "we believe the AU [African Union] should have a fundamental role." The association of African governments, founded in 2002, is holding a summit in Nigeria this weekend, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan set to attend.

Yesterday, a U.N. commission of inquiry established by the Security Council delivered its report on Darfur to Mr. Annan. The report, slated for public release next week, is expected to recommend that the council refer atrocities in Darfur to the ICC. Although the court has power to launch investigations within countries that have ratified its treaty, it can take action in nonmember countries, such as Sudan, only at the Security Council's direction.

On Monday, Mr. Annan said that the ICC was "the most logical place" to try suspects in the Darfur atrocities. Yesterday, Juan Méndez, Mr. Annan's special adviser for the prevention of genocide, said the proposed African Union tribunal was impractical. "It would not only undermine the ICC badly, but I also think it would take forever" for the African Union to establish a functioning court. "You have to think of prosecutors, investigators, everything. At least at the ICC there are professionals" ready to launch cases, he said.

The ICC currently has investigations under way in Uganda and Congo at the request of their governments and recently was asked by the Central African Republic to launch a case there. The court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said he expects to begin proceedings in the Uganda and Congo cases within a year.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on US Opposition to the International Criminal Court
More Information on the International Criminal Court
More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts
More Information on Sudan


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