July 31, 2008

Sudan: Security Council Discusses Extension of UNAMID Mandate in Darfur

Text of report in English by Paris-based Sudanese newspaper Sudan Tribune website on 29 July

The UN Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss extending the mandate of the joint UN-African Union (AU) force in Darfur which is due to expire on 31 July.

The extension which was supposed to be mere formality evolved into a full blown debate on deferring the indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Sudanese president Umar Hasan al-Bashir.

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.

Last Friday the Inner City Press website reporter at the UN reported that Libya wanted to include a paragraph that mentions the possibility of invoking Article 16 of the ICC Statue regarding the authority of the UNSC to suspend its work on a case.

Article 16 of the ICC Statue states that "no investigation or prosecution may be commenced or proceeded with under this Statute for a period of 12 months after the Security Council, in a resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, has requested the Court to that effect; that request may be renewed by the Council under the same conditions".

But a UN diplomat who attended the closed session of the UNSC told Sudan Tribune that a number of countries wanted the UK sponsored UNAMID resolution to incorporate an affirmative decision to suspend ICC work in Darfur and not simply mentioning the possibility of it.

The supporters of the Libyan proposal included China, Russia, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Indonesia, said the UN diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some UNSC members contended that the AU, Arab League and the Non- Aligned Movement (NAM) called for invoking Article 16 which meant that a substantial number of world countries are in support and that ignoring that is a "sign of disrespect" by the council.

The French delegation was firm in its rejection saying that there should be no interference in the ICC judicial process and that no decision has been made yet by the judges on the prosecutor's request.

The US said that they see no need for moving on the issue since there is no imminent threat to peace in the region and that peacekeeping and justice should be kept separate.

But the Russians said that it is the UNSC responsibility to be proactive with potential problems and not simply react after problems occur.

The South Africans also said that not referring to the ICC suspension will embolden the Darfur rebel groups. As a compromise Costa Rica proposed taking note of Article 16 in the UNAMID resolution.

The UN diplomat however said many supporters of the Libyan proposal appeared resigned to the fact that they will not be able to gain enough votes to push it through.

"I highly doubt the Chinese or the Russians will veto UNAMID extension simply to force the UNSC to include the ICC issue" he said.

China, a close ally of Sudan, may not be willing to actively press for ICC suspension ahead of the Beijing Olympics for fear of negative publicity.

Sudan has said that all options are open if UNSC does not halt ICC work. This week a Sudanese official threatened to expel UN peacekeepers if judges issue an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said that UNAMID "cannot be held hostage (to the ICC deferral issue)".

"Everyone is in agreement that it should be extended. What people are in disagreement on is if the Article 16 issue should be dealt with now. We have to go forward... with what everyone agrees to" he added.

If UNAMID resolution is adopted without addressing the ICC issue Sudan can only hope for a standalone resolution on it.

It is widely expected that China and Russia would back such a step but neither have tabled a formal resolution.

However to gain an agreement within the UNSC, Sudan's allies China and Russia must ensure that US, UK and France will not use the veto power to block a resolution on suspension.

Sudan has not ratified the Rome Statue, but the UNSC invoked 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.

Originally published by Sudan Tribune website, Paris in English 29 Jul 08.

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