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World court's big move on Darfur

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Significantly for the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, the janjaweed attackers "targeted no rebel peasants, but civilian residents, based on the idea that they supported the opposition rebels," Moreno-Campo said, and conducted "mass murder, summary executions, and rape."

The ICC has often been termed a "court of the future" for its prospective role as an arbiter of international justice. It was conceived in 1998 as a "court of last resort," and has built its legal approach and validity on the example of the UN Yugoslavia and Rwanda criminal tribunals also housed at The Hague. The ICC has not prosecuted anyone, though it is preparing a trial for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for enlisting child soldiers in the Congo war of 2002-03.

Still, Tuesday's Darfur indictment is considered crucial in international legal circles since it is the first such case to be referred by the United Nations Security Council. Neither China, which has close ties to the Sudanese regime, Russia, or the US blocked the Darfur case.

Washington's tacit approval is significant, experts say, since the US has not participated in the ICC since it was established in 1998.

"The US position [to allow Darfur investigations to go forward] is a turning point institutionally," says Diane Orentlicher of American University's Washington College of Law, "since it reflects a willingness of the US to accept the jurisdiction of the court."

"All the NGO reports, the UN reports, the State Department, and the commissions, point to a pattern of crimes committed by the janjaweed as a proxy of the Sudanese government," says a source with close ties to the prosecutor. "The pattern is one of aerial attack by government planes and helicopters followed by janjaweed on the ground, sometimes supplemented by government troops."

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