Prosecutor slams Sudan's president over aid groups

Says al-Bashir's expulsion of 13 foreign aid groups proves Int'l Criminal Court was right to pursue him on war crimes charges.

Bashir 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bashir 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's expulsion of 13 foreign aid groups from Darfur proves that the International Criminal Court was right to pursue him on war crimes charges, the court's chief prosecutor said Friday. The Netherlands-based court granted earlier this month Moreno-Ocampo's request for a warrant for al-Bashir's arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan's western Darfur region. His Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels there since 2003 and he has been accused of orchestrating atrocities against civilians. "This idea to expel the humanitarians is confirming the court decision," Luis Moreno-Ocampo said during brief comments to reporters after the UN Security Council met to receive an updated assessment on the Darfur crisis. "Expelling them is confirming the crimes." Most of the 3 million people who have fled the fighting rely on UN agencies and international aid groups for their survival, and the groups' expulsion by al-Bashir has raised fears of a deepening humanitarian disaster. About 4.7 million people in all depend on humanitarian aid in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have died in fighting. Al-Bashir has warned that more aid groups could be thrown out, along with foreign missions and UN-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur. He has rejected the court's accusations that he was responsible for atrocities against civilians and accused the aid groups of cooperating with the Netherlands-based court. But Moreno-Ocampo said Friday that the case against al-Bashir relies on "zero, zero, zero information from NGOs" that deliver food, medicine and other humanitarian aid. "I respect different mandates - I never requested information from any of these NGOs," he said. In 2005, the Security Council adopted a resolution ordering the court to investigate Darfur, leading to the charges against al-Bashir even though Sudan does not recognize the court's jurisdiction. Many African and Arab nations have expressed support for al-Bashir, saying they fear the warrant issued against him could bring even more conflict. US Ambassador Susan Rice and other council members urged Sudan to reverse the decision to kick out the aid groups, which provide the majority of the roughly 14,000 humanitarian workers from 85 organizations that had been working in Darfur. Rice said al-Bashir is endangering the lives of 1.5 million more men, women and children. "This is a very real and urgent crisis of his government's own making," she said. "President Bashir and his government are responsible for and must be held accountable for each and every death caused by these callous and calculated actions." But al-Bashir will never back down from his decision, Sudanese diplomat Mohamed Yousif Ibrahim Abdelmannan told the council. "It seems to me that the political track is not a priority for some who are trying to start up fires and make up crises in an open attempt to divert the attention of the international community," he said. "The decision of the government of Sudan is a legitimate, sovereign decision in which we will never reverse." Rashid Khalikov, director of the New York-based UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, known as OCHA, told the Security Council that there are "significant signs of an erosion of humanitarian response capacity, with a concurrent impact on the lives of people in Darfur." Khalikov said this is particularly evident in refugee camps but that "gaps may also be opening up in rural areas where there is no longer a humanitarian presence." In one camp, the departure two groups required smaller agencies to cope with the arrival of more than 36,000 displaced people. The loss of other aid groups has left the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization unable to carry out badly needed vaccination campaigns, he said.