WASHINGTON – The United States is dropping its objections to use of the U.N.'s International Criminal Court (search) to try Sudanese responsible for an ethnic cleansing campaign in the Darfur region that has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted more than 2 million, administration officials said Wednesday night.
The administration had preferred that an African court try the case but agreed to a compromise during daylong discussions at the United Nations (search) on Wednesday.
The United States has strongly opposed the ICC on grounds that American service members or civilians serving overseas could be subject to politically motivated or frivolous prosecutions.
In return for its concession, the United States received assurances that Americans deployed in Sudan, in whatever capacity, would not be subject to ICC prosecutions, the officials told The Associated Press. They asked not to be identified because the decision has not been officially announced.
The decision could raise hackles among conservatives for whom the ICC is an unaccountable body that cannot be trusted to the right thing. The 97 countries that have ratified the 1998 Rome Treaty establishing the court maintain that there are sufficient safeguards built into the process to prevent unwarranted prosecutions.
The administration agreed to a compromise after concluding that opposition to the U.S. stand was too strong, particularly among Europeans, who have been united in support of the ICC, which is based in The Hague (search), Netherlands, as the trial venue.
Concerned about a possible U.S. veto, France on Wednesday delayed a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution to authorize an ICC prosecution.
After U.S. officials said the Bush administration was dropping its objections, France's U.N. Mission said it expects the council to vote on the resolution on Thursday, probably in the afternoon.
The western Sudanese region of Darfur has been the scene of perhaps the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The widespread death and destruction has been the result of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign led by government-support Arab militias against black African farmers. The conflict began in February 2003.
Last September, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the perpetrators had engaged in genocide. Tens of thousands of displaced Darfurians are confined to refugee camps, refusing to return to their villages for fear they would only be forced to flee once again.
The United States, as one possible option, has suggested that "a hybrid court" be impaneled by the United Nations and the African Union to try the Darfur perpetrators. It has said the ICC is already overextended, with existing commitments in Congo, Rwanda, Central African Republic and Ivory Coast.
But critics have said the ICC is ready to take on the Darfur prosecution, arguing that the tribunal proposed by the United States would take a year to get off the ground.