UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 18 -- The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Saturday threatening possible sanctions against Sudan and establishing a U.N. commission of inquiry to investigate atrocities in Darfur, Sudan, and to determine whether Sudanese authorities and militias are responsible for committing genocide there.
The U.S.-drafted resolution passed in the 15-nation council by a vote of 11 to 0, with China, Russia, Algeria and Pakistan abstaining. The resolution's adoption came after the United States agreed to water down language that explicitly threatened sanctions against Sudanese officials or the country's oil industry if Khartoum fails to comply.
Saturday's vote comes more than a week after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared that Sudan and government-backed militia in Darfur have committed genocide. John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that the aim of Saturday's resolution is to increase pressure on the government to rein in the militias and to allow thousands of African Union monitors into Darfur to see and discourage atrocities.
"If the government of Sudan continues to persecute its people or does not cooperate fully with the African Union, the council will indeed have to consider sanctions against it and individuals responsible for the disaster," Danforth said after the vote. Danforth, meanwhile, noted that President Bush had phoned him Friday and "asked me to convey his strong support for what we are doing this afternoon."
The resolution's passage ended weeks of tense talks, particularly between the United States and China, which had threatened to cast its veto to block the resolution. China withdrew its threat after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan declared his support Thursday for the commission and urged the council to move swiftly to pass the resolution.
"This resolution is not a good resolution," China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, said Saturday. But he said he refrained from vetoing it because his government supported some of the text, including a provision that supported an African Union initiative to send thousands of additional troops to Darfur to monitor a cease-fire between Khartoum and the rebels. "As far as China is concerned, we don't like the idea of sanctions . . . but I think that we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water."
But it also faced intense resistance from Russia and the council's Islamic governments, Pakistan and Algeria, who argued that the threat of sanctions was unwarranted in light of Annan's recent conclusion that Sudan had "made progress" in resolving the crisis. "We should not again threaten Sudan with sanctions," Algeria's Ambassador Abdallah Baali said before the vote. "We should be more cooperative with Sudan to ensure their full cooperation. It is not by threats that we can get such cooperation."
Ambassador Elfatih Erwa of Sudan cited the abstentions as evidence of a deeply divided panel. But in a letter to the group, Erwa said that "my government will welcome an agreement with the African Union on any numbers of monitors and their protection forces as the African Union deems necessary." The Sudanese government, however, will remain in charge of protecting civilians.
After the vote, Erwa declined to say whether Khartoum will allow members of a U.N. commission of inquiry into Darfur to investigate genocide. But he said that in principle, Sudan "is not against an inquiry -- it's not scared of any inquiry."
The latest violence in Darfur began in February 2003, when the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms against the government, citing discrimination of the region's black African tribes. In response, the government recruited and organized Arab militias and supported them as they killed tens of thousands of villagers and drove more than 1.2 million people from their homes.
The Security Council threatened to impose sanctions on the government on July 30 if it failed to rein in the Janjaweed within 30 days. Although Khartoum failed to restrain the militia, the case for immediate sanctions was undercut when Annan and his special envoy, Jan Pronk, highlighted Sudan's cooperation in expanding access to humanitarian aid workers.
Sudan, however, continues to face a worsening situation. The World Health Organization reported this week that 6,000 to 10,000 people are dying from disease and violence in Darfur each month.
In Saturday's resolution, the council acknowledges some cooperation from Khartoum but concludes that it "has not fully met its obligations" to crack down on the militia. It also asked Annan to "rapidly establish an international commission of inquiry" to probe atrocities, determine whether they amount to genocide, and ensure "those responsible are held accountable."
The resolution says it "shall consider" sanctions on Sudan's government and the country's oil industry if it fails to rein in the militia and refuses to accept an enlarged African Union observer mission.
The issue of whether the violence in Darfur amounts to genocide has been the subject of intense disagreement. While Congress and Powell have accused Khartoum and the militias of genocide, the African Union and the Arab League have dismissed suggestions that genocide is occurring in Darfur.
The European Union and advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have shied away from using the term. The European Union said its fact-finding mission in August had not turned up adequate evidence for a declaration of genocide.
"No matter how the crimes that are being committed against civilians in Darfur are characterized or legally defined, it is urgent to take action now," Annan said last week. "Civilians are still being attacked and fleeing their villages even as we speak, many months after the government committed itself to bring the militias under control."