ICC Prosecutor To Charge Sudan’s President with Genocide
I mentioned last month that the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was considering bringing genocide charges against Sudanese officials far more senior than Ahmed Haroun, the country’s “humanitarian affairs” minister. Well, he’s now decided to do exactly that — and his target is no other than Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the President of Sudan himself:
The chief prosecutor of the Internationals Criminal Court will seek an arrest warrant Monday for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity in the orchestration of a campaign of violence that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the nation’s Darfur region during the past five years, according to U.N. officials and diplomats.
The action by the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, will mark the first time that the tribunal in The Hague charges a sitting head of state with such crimes, and represents a major step by the court to implicate the highest levels of the Sudanese government for the atrocities in Darfur.
“I will present my case and my evidence to the [ICC] judges, and they will take two to three months to decide,” Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview Wednesday, referring to a pretrial panel made up of judges from Brazil, Ghana and Latvia. “We will request a warrant of arrest, and the judges have to evaluate the evidence.” On Thursday, Moreno-Ocampo’s office said in a statement that the prosecutor will “summarize the evidence, the crimes and name individual(s) charged” at a news conference Monday in The Hague.
Wow. To say this is a bold move — and one fraught with danger — is an understatement. I’ve long disagreed with Julian about whether the ICC’s involvement in Darfur undermines the peace process (which is better referred to as the “peace process,” because the Sudanese government has never been committed to it). But this time I think Julian’s concerns have to be taken very seriously. The UN is certainly worried:
Some U.N. officials raised concerns Thursday that the decision would complicate the peace process in Darfur, possibly triggering a military response by Sudanese forces or proxies against the nearly 10,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers located there. At least seven peacekeepers were killed and 22 were injured Tuesday during an ambush by a well-organized and unidentified armed group.
Representatives from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — met with U.N. officials Thursday to discuss the safety of peacekeepers in Darfur. U.N. military planners have begun moving peacekeepers to safer locations and are distributing food and equipment in case the Sudanese government cuts off supplies.
“All bets are off; anything could happen,” said one U.N. official, adding that circumstantial evidence shows that the government of Sudan orchestrated this week’s ambush. “The mission is so fragile, it would not take much for the whole thing to come crashing down.”
If there was a reasonable chance that indicting Bashir would convince China and Russia to discontinue their economic, political, and military support for Khartoum, these risks might be worth it. But that is obviously unlikely to happen — both countries have consistently opposed the ICC’s efforts in Darfur and will no doubt oppose this new move, as well.
As a side note, I am very anxious to find out what evidence the Prosecutor has that ostensibly proves Bashir is guilty of genocide. As I pointed out in my previous post, the Security Council-sponsored International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur specifically — and controversially, to be sure — recommended that the ICC not pursue genocide charges against the Sudanese government:
The Commission concluded that the Government of the Sudan has not pursued a policy of genocide. Arguably, two elements of genocide might be deduced from the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by Government forces and the militias under their control. These two elements are, first, the actus reus consisting of killing, or causing serious bodily or mental harm, or deliberately inflicting conditions of life likely to bring about physical destruction; and, second, on the basis of a subjective standard, the existence of a protected group being targeted by the authors of criminal conduct. However, the crucial element of genocidal intent appears to be missing, at least as far as the central Government authorities are concerned. Generally speaking the policy of attacking, killing and forcibly displacing members of some tribes does not evince a specific intent to annihilate, in whole or in part, a group distinguished on racial, ethnic, national or religious grounds. Rather, it would seem that those who planned and organized attacks on villages pursued the intent to drive the victims from their homes, primarily for purposes of counter-insurgency warfare.
Though I’m sympathetic to those who want to call the atrocities in Darfur “genocide,” I’ve always found the Commission’s legal analysis of the situation quite persuasive. So I hope that the Prosecutor’s subsequent investigations have uncovered new evidence that the Sudanese government was not simply — if murderously — trying to maintain its power in the face of a concerted rebel threat. If they haven’t, it will look like Moreno-Ocampo is simply giving into political pressure.
Once again — wow. I don’t know what else to say. First the Court stays the Lubanga trial. Now the Prosecutor seeks to indict and arrest the President of the Sudan. This is turning out to be quite a week for the ICC…
More on the story as it develops.