The United States in Darfur: trapped by "genocide"

21 November 2005 by Adele Waugaman

"We concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur, and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed militia bear responsibility," then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told members of Congress in September 2004. With one word - genocide - Powell catapulted the United States to the forefront of international efforts to end abuses in war-torn western Sudan. "Today we are calling on the United Nations to initiate a full investigation [...] into all violations of international humanitarian law that have occurred in Darfur, with a view to ensuring accountability," he added. Six months later, those statements would compel the U.S. government to allow the UN Security Council to refer the Darfur situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Bush administration surprised the court's proponents and detractors alike this March when it abstained from the Security Council's vote on Resolution 1593 instead of using its veto power. To some, the United States' silence signaled an implicit recognition of the fledgling court as a valid international justice mechanism - a stark contrast with the three-year U.S. campaign to secure iron-clad exemptions from ICC jurisdiction. That campaign included the so-called "un-signing" of the court's founding treaty, threatening to veto UN peacekeeping operations unless exemptions for U.S. personnel were granted, authorizing the use of "all means necessary" to release U.S. or allied citizens detained by the Hague-based court, withholding U.S. military assistance to ICC supporters that refused to sign agreements promising never to hand over Americans to the court, and deleting ICC references from UN resolutions or demanding exemption from ICC jurisdiction where such references remained.

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