U.S. Retreats From Darfur Genocide Prosecution

News Release
September 16, 2010

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan has signaled that the United States no longer supports the International Criminal Court’s effort to prosecute Sudan’s president for his role in the Darfur genocide.

Testifying before the Senate this week, Envoy Scott Gration indicated the U.S. now supports the African Union’s proposal to have Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir judged by a local Sudanese court rather than by the ICC. That would greatly increase the chances of Bashir being acquitted or receiving a light sentence.

This represents a major shift in U.S. policy on Darfur.

The ICC last year indicted Bashir for sponsoring the Arab militias that have carried out the genocide in Darfur. The U.S. officially endorsed the ICC’s action, but the administration has taken no steps to bring about Bashir’s arrest, nor has it criticized governments such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia that have hosted visits by Bashir.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 12, 2010, Special Envoy Gration said that while the U.S. is “supporting international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice,” it is at the same time pursuing “locally-owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union High Level Panel on Darfur” last year.

(Gration’s testimony may viewed at http://www.state.gov/s/sudan/rem/2010/141779.htm)

The African Union sought to persuade the United Nations Security Council, in 2008, to block the ICC’s indictment. When that failed, the AU announced its member-states would refuse to cooperate with the ICC in apprehending Bashir. The AU’s High Level Panel on Darfur, in its October 2009 recommendations, said Bashir should be tried before a “hybrid” local Sudanese court that would include some “international personnel.” Creating such a court “might tilt the discussion within the [U.N.] Security Council in favour of deferring ICC action” against Bashir, the AU stated.

(The report may be viewed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/21963057/AUPD-Final-Report-on-Darfur)

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, said: “Sudan’s courts are under the thumb of Bashir’s dictatorial regime. If Bashir is tried before a local Sudanese court, there is a real danger he will escape with a slap on the wrist. The United States has a moral obligation to facilitate Bashir’s arrest and bring him to justice before the International Criminal Court.”

Ambassador Gration gave the first hint of a U.S. shift on Bashir when he was asked at a March 4, 2010 State Department briefing to explain the U.S. position on prosecuting the Sudanese leader. Gration replied: “[W]e support efforts to ensure that President Bashir answers the questions that the ICC has posed, and we support the process continuing as it’s outlined in the international system. And that’s–we’ll have to see where that one goes.”

(A full transcript of the reporter’s exchange with Amb. Gration can be found at:
http://www.state.gov/s/sudan/rem/2010/137833.htm )

In response, 57 Holocaust scholars mobilized by the Wyman Institute issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed that Ambassador Scott Gration waffled when reporters asked him about the U.S. position on prosecuting Bashir.” The scholars said that Gration’s statement that Bashir had to “answer questions” rather than face prosecution, “could be understood to mean that the U.S. is backing away from its previous support for prosecuting Bashir.” They urged the U.S. government to “reaffirm its support for the ICC’s effort to prosecute Bashir.”

The Holocaust scholars emphasized that bringing Bashir to justice “is crucially important to deterring future would-be perpetrators of genocide. ”

The Wyman Institute sponsors the “Bashir Watch” project, which tracks Bashir’s travels and encourages international action to arrest him. Other recent Wyman Institute efforts include a July 2009 letter by 100 Holocaust and genocide scholars to the government of Uganda, praising it for discouraging Bashir from attending a summit in Uganda; an August 2009 petition by 100 Jewish leaders to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, when he visited the U.S., criticizing him for welcoming Bashir to Egypt; an October 2009 letter to President Obama by 119 rabbis, urging active U.S. intervention in Darfur; and a November 2009 letter by 220 prominent Christian and Jewish clergy, on the anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, urging U.S. action to bring Bashir to justice.