Court likely to seek arrest of Sudan’s president

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is widely expected to seek the arrest on Monday of the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, for war crimes committed in Darfur.

The prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, issued a statement on Thursday announcing that he would be submitting evidence ”on crimes committed in the whole of Darfur over the last five years”. The statement said he would then publicly ”summarise the evidence, the crimes and name individual(s) charged”.

Moreno-Ocampo told the Security Council last month that he intended to go after top Sudanese officials, saying the ”entire state apparatus” was involved in systematic attacks on civilians.

Legal sources and human rights activists said on Thursday night said they expected the prosecutor to name Bashir. One source with links to both the ICC and the Khartoum government said: ”It’s going ahead on Monday.”

Reports from Khartoum said that security was being stepped up in the Sudanese capital in anticipation of an announcement, while aid workers were making contingency plans to evacuate non-essential personnel in the event of a government backlash against the international community.

”The UN has gone into panic mode,” one aid official said, expressing fears that the government could retaliate by curbing or even expelling the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force, Unamid, that is slowly deploying in the region.

Alex de Waal, an expert on Sudan at the Social Science Research Council in New York, said it was unclear how the Sudanese president would react.

”The word is from those very close to Bashir that Bashir is obsessed with the idea that the world is out to get him.

”He already feels he has been humiliated and made to look weak,” De Waal said.

Moreno-Ocampo will be presenting evidence to a pre-trial tribunal at the ICC on Monday. It will be up to that tribunal to decide whether to pursue an indictment, a decision that could take several weeks. The security council would then decide whether to take any action on any subsequent arrest warrant.

The ICC issued warrants last year for two Sudanese suspects, a government minister and a militia commander, for organising attacks in Darfur, where more than 200 000 people have been killed and 2,5-million have been made homeless since a revolt broke out in the western Sudanese province in 2003. Bashir has refused to cooperate, vowing the suspects would be handed over ”over my dead body”.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, met Bashir on Wednesday in Khartoum and urged him to cooperate with the ICC, but it is thought unlikely that the Sudanese leader would drop his defiant stance. British policy is to support the work of the ICC, but officials are concerned about the impact of an announcement not only in Darfur, but also on a fragile peace agreement in southern Sudan, which could collapse entirely if the radical elements of the southern Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement turn it against a power-sharing agreement with Bashir. British officials are likely to avoid comment until and unless the court issues a warrant.

David Hoile, the head of a pro-Khartoum lobby group, the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, said: ”The perception in Khartoum is that the ICC is on dodgy ground legally. The official policy is to ignore it. I’ve heard the argument in Khartoum that it’s white man’s justice. It’s focused entirely on Africa, and has done nothing on Iraq or Afghanistan.”

”If the ICC go after Bashir, it will have very negative effects.

”It tells the rebel movements in Darfur to wait it out and the government will be changed by the ICC. The whole thing is not going to turn out well,” Hoile said.

Tom Porteous, the London director of Human Rights Watch, said the organisation ”has been documenting human rights abuses in Darfur since the beginning of the conflict in 2003 and certainly since 2005 we have had enough evidence that very serious war crimes and crimes and humanity have been committed. And we have recommended that the ICC investigate right the way up the chain of command, including Omar Bashir.”

Moreno-Ocampo’s office will be presenting its new case amid intense controversy over its role. Its prosecution of a Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, collapsed this month when the court ruled it had wrongly withheld evidence that could help the defence. Lubanga’s release was blocked by the ICC’s appeals chamber.

William Schabas, the head of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, said: ”This is a very decisive moment for the court. It has been going through a terrible period, this could revive its image and make people feel it’s a robust dynamic institution, or it could be another blow.”

Held to account
Admiral Karl Dönitz: Took over from Hitler as Germany’s leader and was convicted at the Nuremberg tribunal.

Slobodan Milosevic: Indicted by the international criminal court for the former Yugoslavia in 1999. He was later ousted and died in detention.

Charles Taylor: Charged by the special court for Sierra Leone in June 2003 while Liberian president. He is facing trial in The Hague. –

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