UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A humanitarian aid group expelled by Sudan said on Monday it had considered cooperating with the International Criminal Court investigation of crimes in Darfur but promptly dismissed the idea.
The International Rescue Committee is one of 13 foreign humanitarian non-governmental organizations that were expelled by Sudan’s government for allegedly cooperating with the court in its investigation of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Since 2003 the United Nations has been using NGOs as part of a massive humanitarian aid effort it oversees for internally displaced persons in Sudan’s conflict-torn western Darfur region. It provides food and other aid for some 4.7 million people and says its operations are neutral and impartial.
U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes told reporters on Monday that NGOs had to decide for themselves whether or not to cooperate with the ICC. But he said the world body encouraged aid groups to follow the U.N. example and subscribe to principles of “neutrality, independence and impartiality.”
The NGOs say that they have refused to assist the ICC because it would undermine their humanitarian goals.
Earlier this month the Hague-based ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir after its judges indicted him on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem singled out the New York-based IRC, established in 1933 at the suggestion of Albert Einstein to help Germans under the Nazis, as one of the top collaborators with the criminal court.
Not only has the group helped the court’s prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo but it signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the ICC to solidify its cooperation, he said.
IRC spokeswoman Melissa Winkler denied the organization had signed any agreement with the Hague court but acknowledged that the organization had weighed a proposal to assist the ICC.
In a July 2005 internal memorandum, seen by Reuters, an IRC protection programs coordinator named Joseph Aguettant, who later headed IRC operations in Chad, wrote to IRC management outlining guidelines for cooperating with the court.
He said cooperation could be justified because the ICC’s work would help Sudan’s people and bring criminals to justice.
“The draft document was reviewed by IRC senior management and rejected as IRC policy,” Winkler said. “The policy that was later adopted specifically directs IRC staff members not to communicate in any way with the ICC and not to support ICC investigations.”
In a later email, Winkler played down the review of the unsolicited proposal, saying the group’s management never seriously entertained cooperation with the ICC. They read the memo “and immediately rejected its suggestions,” Winkler said.
Sudan got the memo and “has inappropriately used excerpts of it as a basis for accusing the IRC of providing information to the ICC,” she said. “The claim is baseless and false.”
Other well-known NGOs expelled from Darfur include the French aid organization Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Britain’s Oxfam and U.S.-based CARE.
Accusations against them by Sudan’s U.N. envoy Abdalhaleem ranged from assisting the ICC investigation to “first-class espionage.” He declined to specify charges against the NGOs and has declined to produce evidence he says he has against them.
Like the IRC, the other groups denied straying from a purely humanitarian mandate in distributing aid in Darfur.
The U.N. has said expulsion of the NGOs would cripple aid activities in Darfur. Bashir said on Monday that he wants all foreign aid groups to halt activities in Sudan within a year.
Editing by Eric Walsh
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.