The sealed list was gathered by an independent commission sent by the UN Security Council to Darfur last year, which reported mass killings of civilians, systematic rape and burning of villages.

The Darfur case is the first referred by the Security Council to the tribunal, the world’s first permanent criminal court.

Mr Annan passed on the list of 51 suspects recommended for trial to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the criminal court. The list includes government officials, leaders of Arab militia known as Janjaweed, and rebels.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentinian, said that before beginning his own investigation, he would analyse the documents and “admissibility” of the case and called on nations, individuals and organisations to give him information.

“We all have a common task to protect life, ending the culture of impunity,” he said in a prepared statement.

The Darfur case has become a test of the effectiveness of the new court, set up to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and mass human rights violations.

However the impact of a court indictment is uncertain. The Sudanese government has said it would refuse to hand over its citizens to face trial abroad and would prosecute alleged criminals itself.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Sudanese have marched through Sudan’s capital Khartoum in response to a government campaign against the UN resolution referring war crime suspects to the International Criminal Court.

Chanting slogans denouncing the United Nations and the United States, the mostly young men stopped at the UN building, the British embassy and the US embassy, where they shouted “Down, down, USA”.

At the UN building, they called Secretary-General Kofi Annan a coward and an American agent.