Jorge Urbina, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United Nations, is not making any friends among the delegation from Sudan.
According to news reports, the U.N. envoy from Sudan called Costa Rica “a banana republic” last week and accused Urbina of trying “to inflame and inflict damage” on the Darfur peace process, which is attempting to broker a peace in Sudan’s six-year civil war.
The comments were a response to Urbina’s statement to members of the press that there was no justification for suspending any war crimes indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accused of genocide.
“The issue here is bigger than the small minds … of some ambassador who talked with you just some minutes ago,” Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem said after a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sudan. “We need no lessons and lectures from ambassadors like the Costa Rican.”
Costa Rica is in the second of its twoyear stint on the15-member U.N. Security Council, which has the power under Article 16 of the International Criminal Court (ICC) statute to defer ICC prosecutions for one year. The ICC’s chief prosecutor announced last year he would seek an arrest warrant for Bashir on suspicion of carrying out a campaign of genocide in Darfur since 2003.
While U.N. officials expect a formal indictment later this month, Sudan has urged the Security Council to prevent the ICC from passing an indictment, arguing that such a move would disrupt efforts to forge a permanent peace deal in Darfur.
Abdalhaleem told reporters Urbina had no “justification whatsoever to appear before you (the media) and to talk about Article 16 and the need to leave this crazy prosecutor do what he’s planning to do,” accusing the Costa Rican envoy of attempting “to inflame and inflict damage” on the Darfur peace process.
Urbina, for his part, has rejected Abdalhaleem’s characterization of the issue as a choice between keeping peace or pursuing justice as “absolutely false,” citing the experience in the former Yugoslavia, where peace accords have held while temporary tribunals successfully prosecuted former military and political leaders for war crimes.
“At that time, very often politicians, diplomats and analysts were arguing that justice was interfering in the path to peace,” Urbina said. “We learned that it was different.”
Pressing Sudan on Darfur has been a hallmark of Urbina’s tenure on the Security Council. The council unanimously adopted a resolution, drafted by the Costa Rican delegation, last June demanding Sudan’s full cooperation with the ICC. While the declaration was watered down from Costa Rica’s original draft, Urbina at the time welcomed the “consensus of the main elements of this statement to support the ICC and mainly to support the people of Sudan, to protect the people of Sudan from future suffering,” according to news reports.
Urbina’s resistance to Security Council intervention in the Sudan case puts Costa Rica at odds with new ally China, which has said an indictment of Bashir would be “disastrous” for the Darfur conflict and called for the case to be postponed. China, who holds one of five permanent member spots on the Security Council, imported $6.3 billion in crude oil last year from Sudan, one of several countries in Africa and the Americas with which it has been cultivating relationships recently.
Urbina has acknowledged that Costa Rica’s human rights agenda runs counter to China’s, but told The Tico Times last year that the relationship between the two countries would remain strong despite differences on the Security Council (TT, Jan 4. 2008).
“Of course, Costa Rica has to seek consensus,” he said at the time. “That will be a good part of our work. I’m sure China has the same worries that we do about a series of situations. What often happens is that the proposed solution goes against (China’s) interests. I can tell you that within the council, there is a friendly climate. We understand each other’s differences. I don’t think our role in the council will affect our relationship with any of the other members.”