Colum Lynch and Nora Boustany
July 11, 2008
UNITED NATIONS, July 10 — 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.
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.”
Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said rebels are responsible for the attack on U.N. peacekeepers, and insisted that Sudanese forces will not retaliate against foreign peacekeepers. However, he warned that the announcement of charges against Bashir or other senior officials would “destroy” international efforts to reach a peace settlement in Darfur.
“Ocampo is playing with fire,” Mohamad said. “If the United Nations is serious about its engagement with Sudan, it should tell this man to suspend what he is doing with this so-called indictment. There will be grave repercussions.”
Bashir has been at the center of international efforts to seek a political solution to the crisis. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Bush have routinely reached out to Bashir on issues such as counterterrorism and the deployment of peacekeepers. Bush envoys have met regularly with Bashir, and former envoy Andrew S. Natsios delivered a missive from Bush to the Sudanese leader in March 2007 urging him to allow more U.N. and African peacekeepers 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.