4 March 2009

Sudan: International Court Issues Bashir Arrest Warrant

Photo: ICC-CPI/Marco Okhuizen
The judges who will decide whether to add genocide to Omar al-Bashir's arrest warrant: Back row from left, Judge Anita Ušacka from Latvia, Judge Akua Kuenyehia (presiding judge) from Ghana and Judge Sylvia Steiner from Brazil.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant Wednesday for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising out of the war in Darfur.

Court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon told a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands, that Bashir was suspected of responsibility for attacks in which forces backed by the Sudanese government had been guilty of "murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property."

However, two of three judges on the court panel which issued the warrant declined on the evidence currently before them to press charges of genocide. It said the prosecution had failed to provide reasonable grounds for believing that the Sudanese government had the specific intent to destroy three ethnic groups in Darfur.

Bashir becomes the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Blairon said Bashir's status "does not exclude his criminal responsibility nor does it grant him immunity against prosecution."

The charges related to what the court called a five-year counter-insurgency campaign, beginning in April 2003, against the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army, the Justice and Equality Movement and other armed groups fighting the government.

Blairon said it was alleged the campaign was the result of "a common plan agreed upon at the highest level of the government of Sudan by Omar al-Bashir and other high-ranking Sudanese political and military leaders."

She added: "A core component of that campaign was the unlawful attack on that part of the civilian population of Darfur belonging largely to the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups perceived to be close to the organised armed groups opposing the government...

"The... civilian population was to be unlawfully attacked by government... forces, including the Sudanese armed forces and their allied Janjaweed militia, the Sudanese police force, the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Humanitarian Aid Commission."

The judges found that Bashir was suspected of having "co-ordinated the design and implementation of the counter-insurgency campaign..."

Bashir stands accused on seven counts, five of crimes against humanity - including murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape - and two of war crimes - intentionally directing attacks and civilians, and pillaging.

She said the court would appeal for cooperation in executing the warrant from the government of Sudan, from all states which subscribed to the court, from members of the United Nations Security Council and from other states whose help may be necessary.

The judges also highlighted a Security Council resolution which urged all states - whether or not they subscribed to the Rome Statute which set up the court - to co-operate fully with the court.

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