From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Feb 17 2009 - 06:31:28 EST
Darfur war crimes indictment threatens to split international community
Judges in The Hague prepare to indict Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president -
putting western governments on collision course with Africa, China and
* <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/simontisdall> Simon Tisdall
* <http://www.guardian.co.uk> guardian.co.uk,
* Tuesday 17/ February 2009 17.02 GMT
Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses protesters outside the
Sudanese military headquarters in Khartoum
Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, looks certain to be charged with war
crimes. Photograph: Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla/Reuters
Britain, France and the US are up against a united front of African and
Muslim countries, backed by China and Russia, over the imminent indictment
of <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/sudan> Sudan's president, Omar
al-Bashir, for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in
Diplomatic sources said yesterday that a pre-trial panel of three judges at
the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague was expected to
authorise an arrest warrant within the next two weeks. Bashir will be the
first head of state to be charged by the ICC since it was founded in 2002.
"The court has kept its cards very close to its chest. But that's the
expectation," a western diplomat said.
"You prepare for all eventualities and an indictment is the most difficult.
But the search for peace and justice cannot be precluded by concerns over
what might happen."
The <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/africanunion> African Union (AU), the
Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and an influential
UN bloc of developing nations known as the Group of 77 and China have all
backed Sudan's calls for the ICC prosecution to be dropped, with some
officials arguing that it smacks of "white man's justice".
They say an attempt to arrest Bashir could destabilise Sudan and endanger
international aid and peacekeeping missions. An estimated 200,000 people
have died and 2.7 million have been displaced since fighting erupted in
Darfur in 2003.
The UN has more than 20,000 personnel in Sudan, including two peacekeeping
missions, while hundreds of NGOs and aid agencies operate there.
Sudanese officials say they cannot be held responsible if the UN or foreign
organisations become the focus of "public outrage" over an indictment.
Western diplomats say any decision to freeze or drop the case could destroy
the credibility of the ICC and force the resignation of chief prosecutor
Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Yet a decision to go ahead could permanently alienate
African and other countries that have signed the ICC treaty.
Britain, France and the US say they are not alone is backing the ICC
"The Latin American countries, Japan, other European countries, they all
understand and support what we are doing," one official said.
In a unanimous statement issued at this month's summit in Addis Ababa, the
capital of Ethiopia, the AU expressed "deep concern" at the impending
indictment, warning it could seriously undermine efforts to end the Darfur
conflict. "If the court is allowed to go ahead, it will cause a lot of
trouble for the whole Horn of Africa region. Sudan is big. It touches
everyone," said a senior diplomat from one of Sudan's neighbours.
British and French officials and diplomats are adamant that they will not
support attempts to freeze the ICC process under a UN security council
procedure known as an Article 16 deferral.
"At this moment we're not ready to support an initiative that would
implement Article 16," said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, France's deputy UN
ambassador. Lord Malloch-Brown, Britain's minister for Africa, said last
week that a deferral was "completely unlikely".
The US is not a signatory to the ICC's founding treaty but has strongly
supported the case against Bashir.
It has backed two previous ICC indictments of Sudanese officials over
Darfur, including charges of war crimes brought against Ahmad Muhammad
Harun, a former minister of state for the interior. Neither suspect has been
The Obama administration has taken a tougher line on Sudan than its
predecessors. Susan Rice, the new US ambassador to the UN, condemned "the
ongoing genocide in Darfur" in her first press conference, and said efforts
to support Unamid, the UN's military mission in Darfur, were a top priority.
"Obviously we will continue to look at what is necessary to deal with any
obstruction, continued violence or reprisals that may occur or may emanate
as a result of a potential indictment," she said.
She drew attention to new fighting around Muhajiriya, in southern Darfur,
between government and rebel forces. UN officials and rebel spokesmen have
suggested the surge in violence is part of the government's response to the
looming Bashir indictment.
In a sign of growing unease over the possible fallout, Ban Ki-moon, the UN
secretary general, said he had personally urged Bashir to eschew reprisals
when they met at the AU summit.
"Whatever the ICC decision may be, it will be very important for President
Bashir and the Sudanese government to react very responsibly and ensure the
safety and security of UN peacekeepers, protect human rights ... and
faithfully implement the CPA. And he should fully cooperate with the ICC,"
Ban said in a statement.
Sudanese spokesmen maintain thatBashir will never surrender to the court.
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