By Nigar Hacizade | Inter Press Service
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 (IPS) – Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, the first head of state to be indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court, now faces an arrest warrant issued Wednesday by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
The decision was hailed by human rights organisations that had long anticipated the court’s move. Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch, called the decision “a momentous occasion first and foremost for the people of Darfur, but also for ICC and the cause of justice and ending impunity for the most serious crimes in law.”
Right after the decision was announced, thousands of pro-government protestors took to the streets of Khartoum, to hear President Bashir reaffirm his defiance in the face of the charges. Bashir has repeatedly said that his country does not recognise the ICC and the decision is “not worth the ink it is printed on.”
Sudan’s ambassador to the U.N., Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said in a press briefing following the decision, “Today is a day of national outrage, of national anger. We strongly condemn this verdict; the ICC does not exist for us. We are not bounded by its decision and we are not going to cooperate with it.”
He reiterated Khartoum’s position that the court is a tool of Western aspirations of hegemony and imperialism.
The decision came amid substantial opposition not only from the Sudanese government, but also the African Union and the League of Arab States, as well as China, a close ally of Sudan and a permanent member of the Security Council. Critics have argued that the decision might damage the fragile peace process in the region and lead to an escalation of violence.
But human rights organisations respond that giving up justice for peace is not a credible or sustainable move.
“There is no real peace process to speak of,” Dicker told IPS on Monday. “Neither side is showing will to end the conflict.”
Regarding the escalation of violence, Dicker said “given the track record of the Sudanese government in crimes on its people in the last six years, I wouldn’t rule anything out in terms of retaliation.”
Analysts have suggested that inflicting more violence will isolate Bashir and his government further, eventually leading to his fall from power and arrest, much like Slobodan Milosevic.
Concerns exist regarding the U.N. personnel on the ground in Darfur. Alan Le Roy, the under-secretary-general of U.N. Peacekeeping Forces, said in a press briefing on Tuesday that while there is a contingency plan for the hybrid U.N.-African Union force known as UNAMID, there are no plans to either move or scale down the mission and UNAMID will continue its normal operations as scheduled.
Le Roy noted that “we are deeply concerned with the tensions on the Sudan-Chad border,” but “we have to fulfill our mandate, which is to protect 14,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) near our camp.”
The spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed Wednesday that the mission has been rigorously patrolling the area as normal and is so far unaffected by the ICC’s announcement.
The U.N. Security Council, through Resolution 1953, referred the case of Darfur to the ICC in March 2005. While Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute, the legal mandate of the ICC, Article 13 of the Statute allows the Security Council to refer cases to the court.
Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC’s prosecutor, opened the case in June 2005, and requested an arrest warrant for President Bashir in July 2008. Arrest warrants have also been issued for Ahmad Mohammad Harun, minister of state for humanitarian affairs of Sudan, and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, alleged leader of the Janjaweed militia accused of carrying out atrocities in Darfur.
Last November, Ocampo requested arrest warrants for attackers on the UNAMID forces.
A press release issued by the court following the decision said that “according to the Judges, the crimes were allegedly committed during a five year counter-insurgency campaign by the Government of Sudan against the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and other armed groups opposing the Government of Sudan in Darfur.”
The conflict has resulted in 300,000 dead and 2.7 million displaced, according to U.N. estimates. The Sudanese government maintains that the conflict has been exaggerated and the numbers inflated.
The ICC is a permanent independent judicial body created by the international community in 1998 with the aim of persecuting the gravest crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
While the indictment and warrant was widely anticipated by various human rights groups, Bashir was not charged with genocide due to lack of “reasonable grounds.”
There are allegations that the court has been pursing “white justice” and is only interested in persecuting Africans. Asked about the perceived double standards of justice, Niemat Ahmadi, a longtime women’s rights activist and the Darfuri liaison officer with the Save Darfur Coalition, noted that “African leaders have failed in their own responsibility to African people” and that there would be no need for an international court if Sudan had the adequate legal mechanisms.
The other three cases currently before the court are of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Uganda. All cases have been referred to the court by the respective countries, and those indicted so far have been fallen warlords or government opponents.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the situation in Palestine aggravated by Israel’s assault on Gaza in late December and January, have led many, including the Sudanese government, journalists and ordinary Sudanese people to question whether the court is capable of indicting Western leaders.
In response to these allegations, Dicker explained that the court is very new and operates on an uneven playing field. While he acknowledged that “American or European leaders are less likely to be charged in this court,” but added that “it is counterproductive to say there can be no justice because we cannot have justice for all.”
The United States, despite its unwillingness to join the ICC and previous efforts to undermine the court, has been instrumental in referring the case of Darfur to the court through the Security Council.
During the George W. Bush administration, an independent investigation concluded that genocide was taking place in Darfur. Britain and France have also supported the indictment.
The Libyan ambassador to the U.N., who is chairing the Security Council for March, said on Tuesday that he is carrying out bilateral consultations with the other Security Council countries to defer the case based on Article 16 of the Rome Statute.