Global Policy Forum

Judges Approve Warrant for Sudan’s President


By Marlise Simons and Neil MacFarquhar

New York Times
February 11, 2009

Judges at the International Criminal Court have decided to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, brushing aside diplomatic requests to allow more time for peace negotiations in the conflict-riddled Darfur region of his country, according to court lawyers and diplomats. It is the first time the court has sought the detention of a sitting head of state, and it could further complicate the tense, international debate over how to solve the crisis in Darfur. Ever since international prosecutors began seeking an arrest warrant last year, opponents have pressed the United Nations Security Council to use its power to suspend the proceedings. But a majority of Council members have argued that the case should go forward, saying Mr. Bashir has not done enough to stop the bloodshed to deserve a reprieve.

Many African and Arab nations counter that issuing a warrant for Mr. Bashir's arrest could backfire, diminishing Sudan's willingness to compromise for the sake of peace. Others, including some United Nations officials, worry that a warrant could inspire reprisal attacks against civilians, aid groups or the thousands of international peacekeepers deployed there. The precise charges cited by the judges against Mr. Bashir have not been disclosed. But when the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, first requested an arrest warrant in July, he said he had evidence to support charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to a military campaign that "purposefully targeted civilians" and had been "masterminded" by Mr. Bashir. Lawyers familiar with the case said the court had already sought to freeze the president's assets but had found his possessions to be hidden behind other names. The decision to issue a warrant against him, reached by a panel of judges in The Hague, has been conveyed to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and is expected to be formally announced at the court, officials at the United Nations said. The prosecutor became involved in the case after the Security Council asked him to investigate the conflict in Darfur, where massacres, disease and starvation have led to the deaths of up to 300,000 people and driven millions from their homes. Although there has been sporadic fighting in Darfur for decades, the conflict significantly intensified in 2003, when rebel groups demanding greater autonomy for the region attacked Sudanese forces. The Arab-led government responded with a ferocious counterinsurgency campaign, which the court's prosecutor called a genocidal strategy against Darfur's black African ethnic groups.

Relations between Mr. Ban and Mr. Bashir continue to be strained by Sudanese government actions in Darfur and by Mr. Ban's refusal to deal with Mr. Bashir directly. But on Sunday the two men had an unscheduled encounter at a summit meeting in Ethiopia. Diplomats described it as "a stormy meeting" and "a shouting match" in which Mr. Bashir vented his anger at the court, though it is independent of the United Nations. Mr. Ban, in turn, insisted on the safety of United Nations staff members and peacekeepers, and demanded that Mr. Bashir stop the attacks on civilians. The prospect of an arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir has already caused a diplomatic rift, with the African Union and members of the Arab League asking the Security Council to exercise its right to postpone any moves against the president for a year, arguing that he might still help bring a settlement in Darfur. Once an arrest warrant is issued, the Council can request that it be postponed. There is broad concern that removing Mr. Bashir from power could threaten a landmark peace treaty between the Sudanese government and rebels in the southern part of the country. The treaty was signed in 2005 to end a civil war in which 2.2 million people died, far more than in Darfur. Mr. Bashir fought members of his own party to approve that peace deal, and it is widely seen as critical to holding the country together. But some diplomats said the peace treaty was not at risk, irrespective of Mr. Bashir, because others in the government want to keep the south stable to maintain access to the large oil deposits there. On Wednesday, the Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, dismissed the court's decision as "not deserving the ink used to print it." The ambassador accused the court of being a political tool of mostly Western powers that want to fragment Sudan. Mr. Abdalhaleem contended that in separate talks at the United Nations last fall with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top European officials, Sudan was promised that Western powers would support a suspension of the prosecution if the country cooperated with United Nations peacekeeping efforts, pursued peace talks and more aggressively pursued war criminals. "We are moving on all those tracks," he said, though human rights groups and diplomats disagree. A top United Nations official said Mr. Ban's advisers were now struggling to forge a policy that supports the court's pursuit of justice but avoids wrecking Sudanese cooperation with the complex missions there.

The court has issued two other arrest warrants in connection with the Darfur conflict, one for a former government minister, Ahmad Harun, and another for Ali Kushayb, a leader of a government-backed militia. Neither has been arrested. The prosecutor has also accused three rebel leaders of the killing of 12 African Union peacekeepers. They have said publicly that they will surrender to the court.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on International Criminal Court Investigations in Sudan
More Information on Sudan/Darfur


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