The U.N. Security Council approved another year of peacekeeping in Sudan's bloodied Darfur region Thursday night, but the U.S. abstained from a vote that reflected sharp divisions over genocide charges against the Sudanese president.
The United States, despite support for the struggling peacekeeping mission, did not vote because of its opposition to any delay in efforts to prosecute Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
The resolution that was approved 14-0 carried language that noted an African Union request to freeze the International Criminal Court's prosecution of al-Bashir.
Though the measure does not stop the prosecution, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said that the language "would send the wrong signal" to al-Bashir and "undermine efforts to bring him and others to justice."
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the international court, filed 10 charges against al-Bashir on July 14 related to violence in Darfur that the U.N. says has claimed 300,000 lives and driven 2.5 million people from their homes.
Those who survive are preyed upon by the government-backed janjaweed Arab militia and regular troops, Moreno-Ocampo said. The court could takes months to decide on his request for an arrest warrant.
A ‘need to bring to justice’
The resolution — drafted by Britain — also emphasizes "the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of such crimes and urging the government of Sudan to comply with its obligations in this respect, and reiterating its condemnation of all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur."
In an effort to stem the violence, a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force took over duties in Darfur in January from a beleaguered AU force. The joint force has about 7,500 troops and less than 2,000 police, out of a total of 26,000 that have been authorized. The U.N. is seeking to boost the force to nearly 21,000 by year end.
Libya and South Africa, backed by Russia and China, which both have council veto power, took the AU's side in pushing for the council to put on hold for a year efforts to prosecute al-Bashir.
Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said the prosecutor's moves "will seriously undermine" chances for peace in the region and the uncertainty over how the Sudanese government and other forces might react "will have serious implications for stability in that region, but also ... for the U.N. soldiers on the ground."
The U.S., Britain and France — the other three veto-wielding council members — opposed delaying the prosecutor's work.
Unlike the U.S., however, Britain and France were willing to include in the resolution a paragraph "taking note" of the desire by the AU and some council members to have the council freeze the prosecution, and of their intention to revisit the topic later.
"It's very likely ... that we will discuss this again over the coming months," British Ambassador John Sawers said.
The vote on the Darfur mission was preceded by intensive negotiations over the past several weeks. At one point Thursday, council members huddled in an unusual, big circle around Wolff and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin as they argued.
The final vote came little more than two hours before the mission's mandate was set to expire at midnight.
The last-ditch American effort to remove the language "took everybody by surprise because the African Union is a partner in the Darfur issue," said Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad.