Int'l court issues warrant for Sudanese president

President Omar al-Bashir indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, but evidence deemed insufficient for genocide charge.

Omar al-Bashir cane 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
Omar al-Bashir cane 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The International Criminal Court on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. But the three-judge panel said there was insufficient evidence to support charges of genocide. Court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon said, "He is suspected of being criminally responsible ... for intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property." Al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state ordered arrested by the court since it started work in 2002. Earlier, the chief prosecutor said that dozens of witnesses would testify that al-Bashir controlled a genocidal campaign aimed at wiping out three ethnic African tribes in the vast nation south of Egypt. "We have strong evidence against Mr. Bashir," prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said Tuesday. "More than 30 witnesses will (testify) how he managed to control everything and we have strong evidence of his intention." The arrest warrant for al-Bashir is a milestone for the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, which started work in 2002 and has never before ordered the arrest of a sitting head of state. It also puts him alongside former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor as heads of state indicted for war crimes while in office. Both of them were forced from power and ended up on trial at international tribunals in The Hague. About 25 Darfuris gathered outside the court before the announcement and chanted "al-Bashir, justice now!" and "Justice, justice for Darfur!" Similar gatherings were planned in London, Rome and Brussels, Ahmed Mohamedain of the Dutch-based Darfur Union said he hoped a warrant would lead to peace in the region. "I don't think the situation will get better until al-Bashir is arrested," he said. In a show of defiance Tuesday, al-Bashir danced for cheering supporters at a rally in northern Sudan. An effigy of Moreno Ocampo was torched. "They will issue their decision tomorrow, and we are telling them to immerse it in water and drink it," al-Bashir said, using a common Arabic insult meant to show extreme disrespect. The war in Darfur began in 2003, when rebel ethnic African groups, complaining of discrimination and neglect, took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. UN officials say up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes. In 2005, the Security Council asked Moreno Ocampo to investigate crimes in Sudan's western Darfur region. Sudan and its allies in the African Union and Arab League have lobbied the Security Council to postpone the case by a year so UN and AU efforts to end the six-year conflict can continue. But disagreement among veto-wielding members makes that unlikely. The US, France and Britain oppose a delay. Russia and China, which has strong economic ties with Sudan, would likely support one, council diplomats said. "Certainly, the council is still divided on this issue," Libya's acting UN ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who is the current council president, told a news conference Tuesday. "There is nothing scheduled by the council as an immediate reaction to the decision of the ICC." Moreno Ocampo has asked for arrest warrants on 10 charges, including genocide, murder, torture, extermination and rape. He said Sudanese troops and the janjaweed Arab militia they support murdered civilians and continued to prey on them in refugee camps. He says the militia supported has engaged also in a campaign of rape to drive women into the desert, where they die of starvation. Despite the warrant, questions remain over who will arrest al-Bashir, who seized power in a coup nearly 20 years ago. Sudanese authorities refuse to turn over suspects and the court has no police force. Thousands of UN and African Union peacekeepers protecting civilians in Darfur and safeguarding peace in Sudan's semiautonomous south are not authorized to detain him. A top UN official said this week that peacekeepers are prepared for a violent reaction if any warrants are issued. "I'm sure there will be some crowd movements. There will be some violence," UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said.