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Global law claims new turf in Sudan

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Thrust this week into its highest-profile case to date, the fledgling International Criminal Court (ICC) faces both enormous opportunities and risks as Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo launches an investigation into possible war crimes in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

At stake is not only the provision of justice to the victims of violence there, which has left at least 180,000 dead and nearly two million homeless, but the very future of international justice. The case, analysts say, crosses a new threshold, since for the first time investigators will be working uninvited by the local government and against its will.

"It is going to be very difficult," says Princeton Lyman, a former US ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa who now works at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "The Sudanese government will not cooperate."

That resistance is putting into sharp relief the sometimes competing interests of international justice and state sovereignty.

"This is a crucial test" for the ICC, says Richard Goldstone, the first man to prosecute such crimes from the Balkan wars.

Supporters of the court, which was founded three years ago as the world's first permanent, independent judicial body to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, welcome its role in one of the world's most troubling crises.

"It shows that the court is ... firmly part of the international scene," says Christopher Hall, a legal analyst with Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization.

Human rights groups blame most of the atrocities over the past two years in Darfur on Janjaweed militiamen supported by Sudanese government troops, though antigovernment rebel forces have also been accused of war crimes.

Darfur is the third case that investigators with the ICC prosecutor's office have taken on. In Uganda and Congo, however, they are acting at the request of those countries' governments, which have accused rebel groups of atrocities. In Darfur, they will be working at the request of the United Nations Security Council.

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