International Court Issues Warrant for Sudanese President

International Court Issues Warrant for Sudanese President
March 4th, 2009  

Topic: International Court Issues Warrant for Sudanese President

International Court Issues Warrant for Sudanese President
International Court Issues Warrant for Sudanese President

By Colum Lynch and Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 4, 2009; 9:13 AM

UNITED NATIONS, March 4 -- The International Criminal Court's pretrial judges issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Wednesday, charging that he directed the mass murder of tens of thousands of Sudanese civilians in Darfur. It is the first time the Hague-based court has accused a sitting head of state of war crimes.

A three-judge panel upheld a request by the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, to charge Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But it ruled that prosecutors had not provided enough proof to charge Bashir with orchestrating a campaign of genocide. Moreno-Ocampo, the panel said, was free to pursue the genocide charge later if he obtained additional evidence.

The judges' ruling was detailed in a news conference at the court's headquarters in the Netherlands. Laurence Blairon, the tribunal's spokeswoman, , said Bashir exercised full control over the country's security apparatus as it carried out a brutal counterinsurgency against Darfurian rebels from early 2003 to the summer of 2008.

The crimes included the "murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring of large numbers of civilians and the pillaging of their property," Blairon said.
Noting that the international court had never before issued a warrant for a sitting head of state, Blairon said that Bashir's status would not shield him of criminal responsibility, "nor does it grant him immunity."

Abdalmahmood Adalhaleem Mohamad, Sudan's U.N. ambassador, said in an interview Wednesday that his government does not recognize the legitimacy of the Hague-based court and will never surrender Bashir for prosecution. The issuing of the arrest warrant, he warned, threatens to undermine sensitive negotiations aimed at ending the conflict in Darfur and implementing a separate peace agreement that ended an even bloodier conflict between Khartoum and rebels in southern Sudan.

"For us, the ICC doesn't exist," Mohamad said. "We are not going to be bound by any decision they make against our leadership. We are in no way going to cooperate with it."

Top U.N. officials voiced fear that the arrest warrant might trigger an upsurge of violence in Darfur, including public protests and possible reprisals against thousands of international aid workers and peacekeepers stationed there. They have also expressed concern that the decision may lead to war, citing the buildup of Sudanese forces along the border with neighboring Chad, which has backed one of Darfur's strongest rebel groups.

But the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, vowed to continue U.N. operations to protect civilians in Darfur and to press ahead with the buildup of the U.N. peacekeeping force. He also ruled out a role for U.N.-backed peacekeepers in seeking the arrest of Bashir or two other Sudanese nationals sought by the international court.

The latest violence in Darfur began in February, 2003, when two Darfurian rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, took up arms against the country's Islamic rulers, citing a history of discrimination against the region's black African tribes.

The ICC prosecutor charged in July that Bashir ordered the Sudanese military, backed by Arab militias, to carry out a genocidal campaign against Darfur's Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes. The resulting violence left more than 300,000 dead from violence, hunger and disease and drove more than 2.7 million people from their homes.

The ICC spokeswoman said that the pretrial judges were split over the genocide charge, with one judge arguing that there was enough evidence to issue a warrant. But genocide requires a unanimous vote by the three judges, and the two other judges concluded that Moreno-Ocampo had not proved that Bashir intended to eliminate the Darfurian tribes.

The judges have "not been able to find that there were reasonable ground to establish the genocidal intention," Blairon said. "This is why eventually the count of genocide has not been retained by the judges. It does not prevent the prosecution to come back to the chamber if new evidence should appear later on."
International efforts to bring peace to Darfur have been complicated by a widening conflict between Sudanese forces and the Justice and Equality Movement, which enjoys backing from neighboring Chad, and the fragmentation of Darfur's rebels into several armed groups, some of which have resisted repeated peace initiatives.

The ICC's decision to prosecute Sudan's top leaders has spawned a fierce debate over whether the move will help resolve the crisis in Darfur, or possibly spark a host of consequences that will make a solution more difficult.

This "is a game-changing moment," said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, arguing the court's action could improve the prospects for peace in Darfur. "The international community must capitalize on the pressure this decision has brought to bear on Bashir and his regime -- and must ensure Khartoum can no longer continue with business as usual. At a minimum, countries should not allow Bashir to travel to their territory and should limit diplomatic interaction with him in Khartoum to efforts to end the crisis in Darfur and bring peace to all of Sudan ."

But Alex De Waal, a Sudan expert and program director at the Social Science Research Council, said the ICC's decision opened up "completely unknown territory" and said it would likely take some time before its repercussions become clear.

"The Sudanese government response will depend on how others respond," he said, referring to whether the U.S., Europe and other foreign players exert pressure for the arrest warrant to be executed.

De Waal said that the indictment would likely complicate the internal politics of Bashir's ruling National Congress Party, saying that the Sudanese political process "will get paralyzed or slow down, and that does not bode well for peace."

So far, one key player--the government of semi-autonomous Southern Sudan--has taken a somewhat ambiguous position regarding the ICC's decision. After decades of civil war, Southern Sudan struck a peace deal in 2005 with the north involving sharing power and oil revenues. The deal is fragile, however, and its success is viewed as the key to any larger settlement between Khartoum and Darfur and, for that matter, other peripheral regions.

The Southern Sudanese leadership has been divided over whether to fully support the ICC decision and risk their relationship with Bashir, or support Bashir in the hope of shoring up the peace deal. In an interview Tuesday night, Salva Kiir, who is Sudan's vice president under the peace deal, was cautiously supportive of the ICC decision, while continually referring to Bashir and his ruling party as "our partner in peace."

"The ICC issue has to be dealt with in many ways -- legally, diplomatically, politically -- and we should engage these fronts," Kiir said. "We want to work with our partners in peace . . . That does not mean support [of the ICC decision] and that does not mean condemnation. We want a solution to the conflict that brought about the ICC decision in the first place."

Sudan has secured support from key regional organizations, including the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to press the Security Council to invoke a provision of the ICC Charter that would allow it to delay enforcement of the arrest warrant for a year. Such a postponement would be renewable each year. But the United States, Britain and France, have made it clear that they will not defer action for the time being.

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