Any new initiative proposed by the Sudanese Government to deal with the atrocities committed in the country's war-torn Darfur region should be dismissed given the extent of the involvement of that Government's officials in the crimes, the top United Nations human rights official told the Security Council today.
Briefing the Council on the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry on the conflict in Darfur, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is "the only credible way" to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice.
Ms. Arbour said the measures taken so far by the Khartoum Government to deal with the crimes have been "grossly inadequate and ineffective."
Few individuals have been prosecuted or even disciplined for their actions in Darfur, she added, despite evidence that Government forces and allied Janjaweed militias had – "on a very large scale and in a systematic manner" – murdered, tortured and raped civilians, destroyed and looted villages, and forced the displacement of thousands of people.
The Commission of Inquiry, set up last year by Mr. Annan, found these actions constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity and their perpetrators should be referred to the ICC. It concluded that genocide had not occurred as it could not find any specified intent on the part of the Sudanese Government to wipe out an ethnic or racial group.
Speaking at the outset of the session, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Council to act urgently to stop further death and suffering in Darfur and "to do justice for those whom we are already too late to save."
In one of the most chilling examples catalogued by the commission, Government forces and Janjaweed militiamen twice attacked Kailek, a village populated mainly by members of the ethnic Fur group, in South Darfur. After the second attack, during which many civilians were shot and killed, about 30,000 villagers were confined for 50 days within a small area where they then endured "the most abhorrent treatment," Ms. Arbour said.
"Some men were singled out and summarily shot. There are reports of people being thrown on to fires and burnt alive. Women and children were separated out, confined in a walled area, and periodically taken away by their captors to be raped, [with] some subjected to gang rapes."
The Commission also found that the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), two rebel groups fighting the Government in Darfur, had murdered civilians and pillaged homes. But it added that it did not find a systematic or widespread pattern to these violations.
Ms. Arbour told Council members that it would be too expensive and time-consuming to set up an ad-hoc tribunal or expand the mandate of an existing international tribunal.
She also said many victims of atrocities in Darfur had informed the five-member Commission that they had little, if any, confidence in the Sudanese justice system to be impartial and fair in its capacity to bring justice. Victims feared reprisals if they went to the domestic courts, many Sudanese laws breach basic human rights standards, and over the past decade the executive has been granted such broad powers that it effectively undermines the judiciary.
Most estimates suggest 70,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Darfur, a vast and impoverished region on Sudan's western flank, began in early 2003. About 1.65 million people are internally displaced and another 200,000 others live as refugees in neighbouring Chad.
The Council meeting, held at UN Headquarters in New York, was adjourned after Ms. Arbour's briefing for consultations among its 15 members.