Sudan

ICC prosecutor says he won't compromise aid groups

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By Kenneth Li

NEW YORK, June 17 (Reuters) - The international prosecutor investigating war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region pledged on Friday that he would not compromise the work of leading humanitarian groups by seeking information from them.

A meeting, called by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, suggested there might be cooperation between the aid organizations and the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Argentine Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

But the session raised questions about whether the groups could be perceived as compromising their long-cherished reputations for neutrality, which have been central to their ability to work effectively in conflict zones.

Moreno-Ocampo said he made clear the "ICC will not compromise the independence and effectiveness of the relief agencies by seeking information from them."

"There are almost 2 million people displaced in the region. It (the meeting) was about how these people receive food and health," Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters, without elaborating.

Moreno-Ocampo has just begun investigating the war crimes in Darfur on request of the U.N. Security Council, which made its first referral in April, to the ICC, the world's first permanent criminal court, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

A U.N. commission of inquiry concluded in January that serious crimes against humanity had occurred in the region, in the west of Sudan, although it said the killings, rape and plundering fell short of a policy of genocide. It drew up a list of 51 potential suspects that were handed over to Ocampo.

Before the meeting began, Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International, said, "Nobody wants to do anything that will compromise the security of workers on the ground or their ability to do their job."

He said aid groups "have legitimate security concerns about anything that makes the (Darfur) security situation worse and potentially the ICC could make it worse. But there is a set of circumstances that would not make it worse ... This meeting is the beginning of a dialogue."

He would not comment after the meeting, saying its contents were confidential.

More than 2 million people have fled their homes and more than 150,000 have died through fighting and disease.

The Sudanese region has become a test of the effectiveness of the court, established to try persons accused of genocide, war crimes and mass human rights violations.

Sudan has said it would refuse to hand over its citizens to be tried abroad and would prosecute alleged criminals itself.

Sudan two weeks ago detained two workers for the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) aid group on charges of publishing false reports after releasing their study: "The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur."

Other invited groups include CARE USA, Save the Children, World Vision, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, Christian Aid, International Committee of the Red Cross, Concern Worldwide USA, International Rescue Committee and Catholic Relief Services. (Additional reporting by Carol Giacomo in Washington and Evelyn Leopold at United Nations)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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