NEW YORK, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Human rights in Sudan shouldn't take a backseat to political reforms under way in the war-torn country, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch said in an eight-page briefing paper that members of the international community need to press Sudanese actors to cooperate with the International Criminal Court and prosecute war crimes cases stemming from atrocities committed in Darfur.
An ICC warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was issued in March 2009 for five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes.
A 2009 panel sponsored by South African President Thabo Mbeki found people in Darfur "suffered extreme violence and gross violations of human rights," though Sudanese officials had failed to take the appropriate response.
Elise Keppler, a lawyer at Human Rights Watch, said the issue shouldn't be forgotten as Sudan prepares for a January referendum.
"A year is far too long to wait for the government to get serious about the panel's recommendations for justice for the horrific crimes in Darfur," she said in a statement. "And with attention now focused on the referendum for the future of southern Sudan, the panel's work risks being forgotten."
Sudan is gearing up for a referendum to decide whether South Sudan would break off as an independent state as part of a peace deal brokered in part by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2005.
Alain Le Roy, the U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, told the U.N. Security Council that political solutions were the best way to bring peace to the troubled African nation.