Human Rights

Court probes Sudan 'war crimes'
Refugee in Darfur
Some two million people have fled their homes in Darfur, the UN says

The International Criminal Court has announced an inquiry into alleged war crimes in west Sudan's Darfur region.

The Hague court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, said on Monday it was launching what will be the ICC's biggest investigation.

The BBC's Martin Lumb says this is the first time the court has used its right to pursue a case where a host state is thought unwilling or unable to do so.

A special UN inquiry has given the ICC the names of 51 potential suspects.

The UN says about 180,000 people have died in the two-year Darfur conflict.

It says more than two million people have been forced to leave their homes in the region.

Advice rejected

The announcement by Mr Ocampo comes two months after the situation in Darfur was referred to the ICC following a vote at the UN Security Council - the first time the council has referred a case to the ICC.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
First permanent court to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and other human rights violations
Rome Statute set up in July 1998, when 120 countries adopted the treaty
Came into force in April 2002 after ratification by 60 countries
Uganda and DR Congo investigations began in 2004.
Q&A: International Criminal Court

The ICC statement said the investigation would be based on thousands of documents received by the court and interviews with more than 50 independent experts.

"The investigation will require sustained co-operation from national and international authorities," Mr Ocampo said in the statement.

"It will form part of a collective effort, complementing African Union and other initiatives to end the violence in Darfur and to promote justice.

"Traditional African mechanisms can be an important tool to complement these efforts and achieve local reconciliation."

Our correspondent says that by launching the investigation now the court has rejected more cautious advice that the case should wait until the conflict is completely resolved.

Other trials will be held later this year against alleged perpetrators of war crimes in two other African nations, Uganda and Congo.

However, in these cases the governments themselves turned to The Hague for justice.

The Sudanese ambassador in the UK, Hassan Abdin, told the BBC his government would stick to a decision taken immediately after the Security Council resolution not to hand over its citizens for trial abroad.

But he said Khartoum was willing to discuss with ICC prosecutors requests to try suspects inside the country.

US backed down

The Security Council cited allegations of rape, murder and plunder in Darfur.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch group said the Sudanese authorities in Khartoum have not taken any meaningful steps to bring to account those responsible for the alleged crimes.

The referral to the court was made possible when the US - which opposes the ICC - backed away from using its veto power as the Council's permanent member.

The US has expressed its concerns that the court could bring bogus charges against American nationals.

Washington has already signed nearly 100 bilateral treaties with countries that have agreed not to surrender US citizens to the ICC.

However, 99 countries have ratified the court's founding treaty, including all of Washington's major allies in Europe.