UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council (search) approved a resolution Thursday to prosecute Sudanese war crimes suspects before the International Criminal Court, after the United States reversed policy and agreed not to veto the document.
The United States, which abstained with three other countries, won significant concessions, including ironclad guarantees it sought that Americans working in Sudan would not be handed over to either the ICC or any other nation's courts if they commit crimes in Sudan.
With Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) looking on, the council voted 11-0. Algeria, Brazil and China also abstained.
Acting U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson (search) said the United States still "fundamentally objects" to the court but was determined to get something done on Sudan.
"It is important that the international community speak with one voice in order to help promote effective accountability," Patterson said.
Even with the legal concessions, the U.S. decision not to veto was a major shift. Ever since he took office, President Bush had actively opposed the court, and American diplomats had repeatedly said they opposed any variation that referred the Sudan cases to it.
On Wednesday, Bush administration officials had already said they were dropping their objections to using the International Criminal Court for Sudanese suspects because of the legal guarantees it got for its citizens.
But the threat of a U.S. veto loomed all day Thursday as diplomats grappled with language acceptable to all sides.
France, Britain and seven other Security Council members have ratified the ICC statute, while two more have signed and are expected to ratify. In total, 98 countries are parties to the treaty and 139 are signatories.
The document is the last of three Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Sudan to stop a crisis in Darfur, where the number of dead from a conflict between government-backed militias and rebels in Darfur is now estimated at 180,000.
One strengthens the arms embargo and imposes an asset freeze and travel ban on those who defy peace efforts. The other will send 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers to monitor a peace deal between the government and southern rebels that ended a 21-year civil war. The council hopes the resolution will also help Darfur move toward peace as well.
A veto on the third resolution could have been politically damaging because it would have left the prosecution of war crimes suspects in limbo. And it was the United States itself that had declared genocide has occurred in Darfur (search).
The Bush administration had wanted an African court to try those accused of war crimes, but the U.S. proposal had little support among the 14 other Security Council nations.
The U.S. decision to allow the court to prosecute war crimes perpetrators could raise hackles among conservatives for whom the court is an unaccountable body that cannot be trusted.
They include John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and President Bush's nominee to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Thursday night's vote, at 10:30 p.m.,
The draft refers Darfur cases since July 1, 2002, to the International Criminal Court. That was the recommendation of a U.N. panel that had concluded in January that crimes against humanity — but not genocide — occurred in the vast western region of Sudan.