By Wasil Ali
July 31, 2008 (WASHINGTON) – The US made the highly unexpected move of abstaining from voting on a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution extending the mandate of the UN-African Union (AU) hybrid force in Darfur (UNAMID).
With 14 votes in favour and an abstention by the United States, a resolution was adopted to extend the Darfur peacekeeping mission which was authorized by the Council exactly one year ago – for another 12 months to 31 July 2009. The current mandate expires tonight.
Britain and France accepted wording that makes clear the council would be willing to discuss freezing any International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide to achieve peace in Darfur.
Earlier this afternoon the US raised an 11th hour objection to a paragraph incorporated in the resolution that takes in consideration, concerns expressed by the African Union delegations, Libya and South African, that any indictment of Sudan President by the ICC might jeopardize the Darfur peace process.
Following objections by Western countries the verbage in the draft resolution has been watered down during negotiations between UNSC members from an earlier version this week calling for a decision to defer the ICC prosecution against the Sudanese head of state.
Some UNSC members in explaining their votes today contended that the AU, Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) called for invoking Article 16 which meant that two thirds of the world countries are in support and that ignoring that is a “sign of disrespect” by the council.
The ICC’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked pre-trial judges in mid-July to issue arrest warrants for Al-Bashir.
Ocampo filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order Al-Bashir’s arrest.
It is not clear what prompted the change in US stance but a diplomat who attended the consultations told Sudan Tribune that the deputy US Representative to the UN Alejandro Wolf received firm instructions from Washington that the draft text of the UNAMID resolution is not acceptable.
Another diplomat told Sudan Tribune that the US special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson was behind the change of heart with regards to the UNAMID resolution.
Prior to the ICC announcement Williamson told reporters earlier this month that the US adminstration “does not want to impinge in any way on the ICC prosecutor’s discretion to go forward”.
“Let me make it absolutely clear that the United States does not believe there should be impunity. United States believes restorative justice is important in societies that gone through trauma and certainly where there has been genocide” he added.
The last minute change angered other UNSC members who were getting ready to vote on the resolution, said the UN diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In explaining the US abstention Wolf said his government strongly supports UNAMID but that the “language added to the resolution would send the wrong signal to the Sudanese president Al-Bashir and undermine efforts to bring him and others to justice”.
“This council cannot ignore the terrible crimes committed throughout the conflict in Darfur and the massive human destruction that the world has witnessed” he added.
The statement marks yet another dramatic shift in Washington’s attitude towards the ICC which it had vehemently opposed fearing frivolous cases against its troops stationed worldwide.
Washington had threatened to veto resolution 1593 referring Darfur case to the ICC adopted in March 2005 but eventually bent down to domestic and international pressure and abstained from voting.
Earlier today the UNSC delegations engaged in marathonic discussions trying to get the US to vote for the resolution in its current format. However Wolf made it clear that the US administration wants the paragraph removed altogether.
One proposal the US put forward is for a technical rollover of UNAMID until Monday while differences are ironed out however it was rejected by other countries.
The Russian envoy addressing his US counterpart said that there is no guarantee that an agreement would be reached in a few days.
The Chinese ambassador said he has no objection to the technical rollover and that it is up to the British sponsors of the resolution and others to determine the best course of action.
He also reminded the UNSC members that China had been a proponent of the temporary extension before and that it will not object to it.