Turtle Bay

Don’t hang out with war criminals … unless it’s absolutely necessary

The International Criminal Court’s 120 member states backed a General Assembly proposal this week that would restrict the U.N.’s ability to engage with Sudanese political leaders wanted by the Hague-based tribunal. The initiative, which was tabled by Switzerland, faced initial resistance from troop contributors and traditional critics of the ICC, including the United States, China, ...

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

The International Criminal Court’s 120 member states backed a General Assembly proposal this week that would restrict the U.N.’s ability to engage with Sudanese political leaders wanted by the Hague-based tribunal.

The initiative, which was tabled by Switzerland, faced initial resistance from troop contributors and traditional critics of the ICC, including the United States, China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, and Thailand. The United States is in talks with the Swiss about a possible compromise.

It is also unpopular among U.N. peacekeeping officials and envoys, who feel they need flexibility to deal with the leadership in a country where the president, Omar al-Bashir, and a key official have been served arrest warrant by the ICC.

The initiative reflects mounting frustration by European governments and other ICC supporters that U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan have periodically provided support to alleged war criminals, including Ahmad Haroun, who was flown in U.N. aircraft last year to participate in peace talks in the disputed region of Abyei.

The U.N. defended the decision on the grounds that Haroun was the only government official capable of convincing members of the pro-government Miseriya tribe to pursue peace talks with the rival Ngok Dinka tribe. But the talks never resulted in a durable peace — and last May, Sudanese government forces overran the town, driving the Ngok Dinka residents from their homes.

The U.N. "policies provide for sufficient flexibility by allowing contacts which are essential to the mission," said one U.N. diplomat, who has been critical of the United Nations. "But why did the U.N. transport Haroun to meet with tribal leaders? They claim only he had the authority to talk to tribal leaders and prevent them from resorting to violence. That’s at best naïve, at worst a lie…. This meeting didn’t prevent anything."

The latest move comes several weeks after the U.N. secretary general publicly instructed Ibrahim Gambari, the joint U.N. African Union representative in Darfur, Sudan, to limit his personal contacts with Bashir, who has been charged by the ICC with orchestrating genocide in Darfur.

On Jan. 20, Gambari, a former Nigerian diplomat who once served as the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, was photographed socializing with Sudan’s Bashir at a wedding ceremony for the Chadian President Idriss Deby.

The Swiss are seeking to include the amendment in an annual General Assembly resolution that welcomes the establishment of the Hague-based court and calls on all U.N. members to support it.  On Monday, Switzerland introduced a draft amendment before the U.N. General Assembly that encouraged the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take steps to ensure that his U.N. special envoys and mediators "refrain from any action" that could undercut the authority of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The draft amendment is directed at U.N. personnel serving in peacekeeping operations, and calls on U.N. officials not to use any official "resources" that could undercut the ICC.

Here’s the text of the amendment:

5bis. Requests the Secretary-General to ensure, consistent with the existing UN policies and pursuant to the Relationship Agreement, that United Nations field presences and representatives, especially peacekeeping operations, special political missions, special envoys, special representatives and mediators, refrain from any action, including the use of resources, that could undermine the efforts of the International Criminal Court, and requests the Secretary-General to submit a report on the application of such policies for the consideration of the General Assembly at its sixty-seventh session;

The U.N. currently has rules allowing its officials to engage in dealing with accused war criminals. In an internal memo, Patricia O’Brien, the U.N.’s lawyer, instructed officials to limit their conduct with accused war criminals to "what is strictly required for carrying out U.N. mandated activities." The memo, according to Human Rights Watch, which obtained a copy, states that "the presence of UN representatives in any ceremonial or similar occasion with [persons indicted by international criminal courts] should be avoided."

In the past year, Bashir has hosted a number of visits by top U.N. officials, including Hervé Ladsous, the U.N. chief peacekeeping official. Earlier this week, the U.N.’s top envoy to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, held a meeting with Bashir to discuss Khartoum’s troubled relationship with South Sudan. Johnson’s meeting was aimed at encouraging the Sudanese government to help facilitate the return of more than 300,000 southerners seeking to return from the north to the south.

"The U.N. policy as it stands is already flexible and allows for unavoidable contacts with ICC indictees," Philippe Bolopion, the rights’ group U.N. representative, told Turtle Bay. "It does not allow conducting business as usual with people who are the targets of ICC warrants."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

The International Criminal Court’s 120 member states backed a General Assembly proposal this week that would restrict the U.N.’s ability to engage with Sudanese political leaders wanted by the Hague-based tribunal.

The initiative, which was tabled by Switzerland, faced initial resistance from troop contributors and traditional critics of the ICC, including the United States, China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, and Thailand. The United States is in talks with the Swiss about a possible compromise.

It is also unpopular among U.N. peacekeeping officials and envoys, who feel they need flexibility to deal with the leadership in a country where the president, Omar al-Bashir, and a key official have been served arrest warrant by the ICC.

The initiative reflects mounting frustration by European governments and other ICC supporters that U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan have periodically provided support to alleged war criminals, including Ahmad Haroun, who was flown in U.N. aircraft last year to participate in peace talks in the disputed region of Abyei.

The U.N. defended the decision on the grounds that Haroun was the only government official capable of convincing members of the pro-government Miseriya tribe to pursue peace talks with the rival Ngok Dinka tribe. But the talks never resulted in a durable peace — and last May, Sudanese government forces overran the town, driving the Ngok Dinka residents from their homes.

The U.N. "policies provide for sufficient flexibility by allowing contacts which are essential to the mission," said one U.N. diplomat, who has been critical of the United Nations. "But why did the U.N. transport Haroun to meet with tribal leaders? They claim only he had the authority to talk to tribal leaders and prevent them from resorting to violence. That’s at best naïve, at worst a lie…. This meeting didn’t prevent anything."

The latest move comes several weeks after the U.N. secretary general publicly instructed Ibrahim Gambari, the joint U.N. African Union representative in Darfur, Sudan, to limit his personal contacts with Bashir, who has been charged by the ICC with orchestrating genocide in Darfur.

On Jan. 20, Gambari, a former Nigerian diplomat who once served as the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, was photographed socializing with Sudan’s Bashir at a wedding ceremony for the Chadian President Idriss Deby.

The Swiss are seeking to include the amendment in an annual General Assembly resolution that welcomes the establishment of the Hague-based court and calls on all U.N. members to support it.  On Monday, Switzerland introduced a draft amendment before the U.N. General Assembly that encouraged the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take steps to ensure that his U.N. special envoys and mediators "refrain from any action" that could undercut the authority of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The draft amendment is directed at U.N. personnel serving in peacekeeping operations, and calls on U.N. officials not to use any official "resources" that could undercut the ICC.

Here’s the text of the amendment:

5bis. Requests the Secretary-General to ensure, consistent with the existing UN policies and pursuant to the Relationship Agreement, that United Nations field presences and representatives, especially peacekeeping operations, special political missions, special envoys, special representatives and mediators, refrain from any action, including the use of resources, that could undermine the efforts of the International Criminal Court, and requests the Secretary-General to submit a report on the application of such policies for the consideration of the General Assembly at its sixty-seventh session;

The U.N. currently has rules allowing its officials to engage in dealing with accused war criminals. In an internal memo, Patricia O’Brien, the U.N.’s lawyer, instructed officials to limit their conduct with accused war criminals to "what is strictly required for carrying out U.N. mandated activities." The memo, according to Human Rights Watch, which obtained a copy, states that "the presence of UN representatives in any ceremonial or similar occasion with [persons indicted by international criminal courts] should be avoided."

In the past year, Bashir has hosted a number of visits by top U.N. officials, including Hervé Ladsous, the U.N. chief peacekeeping official. Earlier this week, the U.N.’s top envoy to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, held a meeting with Bashir to discuss Khartoum’s troubled relationship with South Sudan. Johnson’s meeting was aimed at encouraging the Sudanese government to help facilitate the return of more than 300,000 southerners seeking to return from the north to the south.

"The U.N. policy as it stands is already flexible and allows for unavoidable contacts with ICC indictees," Philippe Bolopion, the rights’ group U.N. representative, told Turtle Bay. "It does not allow conducting business as usual with people who are the targets of ICC warrants."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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