UNITED NATIONS – Sudan's government and the Janjaweed militia are not guilty of genocide but did commit mass killings, torture, rape and other atrocities in the Darfur region (search) that merit the trial of suspects in the International Criminal Court (search), a U.N.-appointed panel said in a new report.
The panel's report, released Monday, sets up a possible showdown with Washington, which opposes the court and has demanded perpetrators of the violence be tried elsewhere.
The crisis in Darfur, which has killed more than 70,000 people and has affected some 2 million people, has gripped world attention but also drawn calls that international leaders are again standing by while a people is exterminated — as happened in Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
While the United States has labeled the destruction genocide, the U.N.-appointed panel of five lawyers said that there appeared to be no clear evidence of "genocidal intent" against the people of Darfur.
Still, it said the atrocities committed there were horrific, and spread the blame among the government, the militias and the region's rebels.
"The conclusion that no genocidal policy has been pursued and implemented in Darfur by the government authorities ... should not be taken in any way as detracting from the gravity of the crimes perpetrated in the region," the report said.
The report on Darfur detailed a host of violations, including the government's failure to protect civilians from rebel attack, use of disproportionate force and attacks meant to force people to flee their homes.
It blamed the government for joining in the attacks and for complicity with the Janjaweed militia, and also accused rebels of massive violence.
"There was no military necessity for the destruction and devastation caused. The targets of destruction during the attacks under discussion were exclusively civilian objects," the panel said.
The panel collected a list of "likely suspects" in the worst crimes, including individuals on all sides — government officials, militia members, rebels, and even "certain foreign army officers acting in their personal capacity." But the names were not made public to ensure due process is carried out and to protect witnesses.
The panel did not rule out that a court could eventually find there may have been genocidal acts in Darfur and some individuals may be found guilty of having had "genocidal intent."
"Some of these violations are very likely to amount to war crimes, and given the systematic and widespread pattern of many of the violations, they would also amount to crimes against humanity," the report said.
The release of the report came as Sudan's government and Darfur rebels said they will reopen long-stalled peace talks in Nigeria in February. Three previous peace conferences and a cease-fire agreement have failed to calm the violence.
The Security Council (search) is also considering elements of a possible resolution to push for new progress on Darfur, possibly including sanctions, an arms embargo and an asset freeze. U.S. officials have said economic and humanitarian aid could also be linked to Sudan's ability to quell the violence.
The panel recommended that the U.N. Security Council immediately refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
However, the recommendation to put the case before the International Criminal Court could lead to a confrontation within the Security Council because the Bush administration strongly opposes the court and could use its veto to block a referral.
The court, in The Hague, Netherlands, is supposed to enter cases involving genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity when the countries involved cannot work out a solution on their own. Yet the administration says the court could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions of American troops.
In the meantime, Washington has lobbied council members for a new tribunal to prosecute alleged crimes from Darfur which would operate with the African Union.
"The important issue for us is accountability for the perpetrators of these acts," said U.S. deputy ambassador Anne W. Patterson. "And there are various options on the table."
The U.S. stance on the court has drawn criticism from some groups, which argue that Washington's ideological opposition may delay prosecutions of the perpetrators of violence in Darfur, even though the United States was one of the leading voices for justice in Sudan.
"We look to the council to take fast action on this recommendation which will put to the test the U.S. government's commitment to justice for the people of Darfur," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at New York-based Human Rights Watch (search).
The Darfur conflict began when the rebels took up arms against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin. The government is accused of responding with a counterinsurgency campaign in which the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, committed wide-scale abuses against the African population.