ICC won’t back down on al-Bashir arrest

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on Thursday he intends to proceed with charges against Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who was accused of acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur’s ethnic conflict.

Moreno-Ocampo, speaking for the first time since he requested on Monday an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, proclaimed the ICC’s and his own independence in legally pursuing the charges against the Sudanese leader.

”I am the prosecutor and I have to do my judicial part of the work for the court, and it will be up to the state parties to decide,” he told a press conference at United Nations headquarters in New York.

”I kept my independence and I cannot be a political factor [in the peace process in Darfur],” he said when asked whether arresting al-Bashir would harm peace negotiations. ”I had informed the political actors of my work.”

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute signed in 1998 by more than 130 countries, of which 106 have ratified the convention setting up the court.

Moreno-Ocampo and other officials of the court based at The Hague were at UN headquarters to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the statute.

The United States, Sudan, China, Russia and Israel have not signed the statute and rejected the ICC’s jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The UN Security Council in 2005 asked the ICC to investigate the ethnic killing in Darfur with the support of the US, China and Russia — three of the five UN Security Council permanent members with veto power — despite their rejection of the court. The other two permanent members — France and Britain — have ratified the convention.

Moreno-Ocampo declined to discuss openly the charges he made against al-Bashir, which he gave to a three-judge panel at The Hague when he requested the arrest warrant on Monday. He said there was no deadline for the panel to reply to his request.

The charges against the Sudanese president had provoked strong and adverse reactions from Khartoum, and concerns from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, that they might interfere with UN efforts to end the conflict through negotiations involving al-Bashir.

Diplomats at UN headquarters said some council members, including from China and a few African nations, may request the Security Council to ask the ICC to defer the legal process against al-Bashir for one year.

The ICC said postponing the case is a legal and permissible step allowed by the ICC convention. But the 15-nation council will have to adopt a resolution requesting the postponement, because it referred Darfur to the ICC also by a resolution.

Moreno-Ocampo asked the council last December to call on al-Bashir for the surrender of Ahmad Muhammad Harun, who was promoted as Minister for Humanitarian Affairs after the ICC charged him with war crimes in Darfur in his capacity as the minister of the interior.

The prosecutor also asked for the surrender of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, a leader of the Janjaweed Arab militia, who had been fighting African rebel groups in Darfur. The Janjaweed were accused of the worst atrocities against Darfur’s civilian population.

The UN said the ethnic conflict in Darfur since 2003 had killed more than 300 000 people and made 2,5-million refugees. Most of the Darfur population have been receiving humanitarian assistance from international relief organisations.

”What happens?’
South Africa on Tuesday signalled it’s opposition to the arrest.

”This action will take months but even if it is granted, what happens?” Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told reporters.

”You can’t arrest [al-]Bashir. Who’s going to arrest him?”

Pahad said South Africa, which has about 900 troops serving as peacekeepers in Darfur, wanted to help strengthen the court but added it was ”important for the ICC to take action that does not undermine its very important role”.

The chairperson of the African Peace and Security Council has already expressed concern about this action and said they don’t think it will contribute to long term peace in Darfur. We will be driven by that,” he said. – Sapa-DPA

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