Hague court issues warrant for Sudan’s Bashir

THE HAGUE, (Reuters) – The International Criminal  Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar  Hassan al-Bashir yesterday for war crimes in Darfur, a  decision that could spark more regional turmoil.

Omar  Hassan al-Bashir
Omar Hassan al-Bashir

The warrant is the first issued against a sitting head of  state by the Hague-based court, which stopped short of including  a count of genocide over a conflict that United Nations  officials say has killed as many as 300,000 people since 2003.

The court, set up in 2002, indicted Bashir on seven counts  of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include murder,  rape and torture. The three-judge panel said it had insufficient  grounds for genocide.

“His victims are the very civilians that he as a president  was supposed to protect,” ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis  Moreno-Ocampo told reporters, adding that Sudan’s government is  obliged to execute the warrant. “It could be in two months or  two years, but he will face justice.”

Hundreds of demonstrators protested against the arrest  warrant in central Khartoum. Bashir, 65, has dismissed the  allegations made by the ICC, the world’s first permanent court  for prosecuting war crimes, as part of a Western conspiracy.

“It is a flawed decision,” said Sudanese presidential  spokesman Mahjoub Fadul. “We do not recognise it.”

Hours after the warrant was issued, Sudan revoked the  licences of at least six foreign aid agencies, giving no reason  for the decision, aid officials said. “This will have a major  impact on humanitarian work in Darfur,” said one aid official.

U.N. and other agencies are running the world’s largest  humanitarian operation in Darfur, a mainly desert region in  western Sudan. U.N. officials say up to 300,000 have been killed  there, while Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

A further 2.7 million people are estimated to have been  uprooted by the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab  rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.

U.N. officials said hundreds of government troops paraded  through the regional capital El Fasher in a show of strength.

Sudan’s under-secretary of foreign affairs, Mutrif Siddiq,  told Reuters Bashir planned to attend an Arab summit in Qatar  later this month despite the warrant.

ICC Registrar Silvana Arbia said the court expects  enforcement of the arrest warrant of states party to the Rome  Statute that set up the court and United Nations member states.

International justice expert Richard Dicker of Human Rights  Watch said the ICC’s inability to arrest was an “Achilles heel”.

The ICC “has no police force of its own to go out and  execute its judicial orders and is dependent on the government  of Sudan to carry out this arrest warrant,” Dicker told  reporters at U.N. headquarters.

Washington welcomed the issue of the arrest warrant.

“Governments and individuals who either conduct or condone  atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in  Sudan, have to be held accountable,” U.S. Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton told reporters on her way to Brussels.

Bashir could “have his day in court” if he believed he had  been wrongly charged, she added.

China, the African Union and the Arab League suggested an  indictment could destabilise the region, worsen the Darfur  conflict and threaten a troubled peace deal between north Sudan  and the semi-autonomous south — potentially rich in oil.

The Arab League said it would send a delegation to the U.N.  Security Council to ask for a delay in implementing the warrant.

Violence has risen in Darfur in recent months, and Sudanese  government officials expect rebels to step up their attacks.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Sudan to cooperate  with the court. “The United Nations will continue to conduct its  vital peacekeeping, humanitarian, human rights and development  operations and activities in Sudan,” said a U.N. statement.

The court said its decision on Wednesday not to include a  genocide charge could change “if additional evidence is gathered  by the prosecution” and it sought an amendment to the warrant.

Aid workers said Sudanese officials told them to pull some  staff out of parts of Darfur earlier this week because the  humanitarian workers might be targeted.

“Khartoum is going to react violently against Darfur’s  population. And we are ready to defend our people,” said Ahmed  Abdel Shafie, leader of a rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the  U.N. Security Council to suspend Bashir’s arrest warrant, but  Libyan envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi said before the ICC announcement  there were no plans for an immediate council meeting.

The council has the power to defer ICC proceedings for up to  one year at a time.

Moreno-Ocampo requested the warrant for Bashir last July,  making him the third sitting head of state to be charged by an  international court after Liberia’s Charles Taylor and  Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic.

Both were forced from power and brought in front of  international tribunals in the Hague.

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