19 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON DEVELOPMENTS RELATING TO INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT


INVESTIGATION IN DARFUR, ROLE OF SECURITY COUNCIL


There would be “no peace without justice in Darfur”, and any delay by the International Criminal Court in prosecuting the President of the Sudan would be devastating to the peace process in the region, Sudanese opposition Member of Parliament Salih Mahmoud Osman said at a Headquarters press conference today.


The press conference, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, was held jointly by Mr. Osman; Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch; Osman Hummaida, a Sudanese human rights researcher and campaigner; and William Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.  It was held prior to the general debate of the sixty-third General Assembly session to provide more information on the implications of an Article 16 deferral of the President’s possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court.


In July 2008, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, requested an arrest warrant for President Omer Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir.  The request charged the President with 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  At the time of today’s press conference, the Court’s judges had yet to issue a decision on the Prosecutor’s application.


Mr. Pace said the African Union Peace and Security Council was expected to hold a special meeting on Monday, 22 September, to discuss a resolution calling for the United Nations Security Council to “instruct the ICC to back off its consideration of the allegations by the Prosecutor”.


Mr. Dicker added that efforts by countries or regional groups to press the Security Council to suspend the accusations against the President and give him a “get out of jail free card” would thus permeate the General Assembly’s general debate, as well as behind-the-scenes ministerial consultations.  “What this is all about is setting the stage and positioning for what will be round two at the Security Council to barter responsibility for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for impunity on behalf of Omer Al-Bashir.”


The President and Government of the Sudan were responsible for numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the forced displacement of more than 3 million people, said Mr. Osman.  “If we consider the nature of crimes that are still occurring, it is extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, which has been used as a weapon of war.”  There was now a culture of impunity in the Sudan since none of the perpetrators of those crimes had been brought to justice.  “Our judicial system is incompetent and unwilling to bring perpetrators to justice,” he said.  Justice and accountability are the only mechanisms that could bring lasting peace to Darfur.


However, there were many who disagreed with that opinion, Mr. Hummaida pointed out, explaining fears that an International Criminal Court case against the President might undermine the peace process in Darfur and jeopardize the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan.  It might also be the cause for retaliatory attacks by the Government against civilians, humanitarian workers or United Nations Peacekeepers.  Backing down now would be a mistake.  “The [Prosecutor’s] announcement has shifted the balance of power inside Sudan for those who are calling for reform, changes, accountability and political transformation, and it has demoralized the hardliners and the Government of Sudan.”  A deferral of the prosecution would send a message to the President and his Government that they had won and those calling for change and justice in the Sudan would be at risk once again.


Asked about the possibility of a deal between the International Criminal Court and the Government of the Sudan, wherein the Security Council would vote to defer the case regarding President Bashir in return for the handing over of two Sudanese officials for whom the Court had already issued arrest warrants, Mr. Hummaidi said such a deal would be difficult, if not impossible, since it would have serious implications for other members of the Sudanese Government who might themselves have been involved in war crimes.


In response to a question regarding the possibility of the Sudanese leading their own investigation into the war crimes allegations, Mr. Dicker said he would “welcome a serious effort by Sudan to prosecute its own”, but to date, the Government had done nothing to investigate or prosecute the most grave crimes.  It would be up to the International Criminal Court judges to decide whether or not national efforts to investigate or prosecute were satisfactory and if it should step in.


Asked how big an impact an indictment would have on the President’s behaviour, Mr. Osman in turn asked what it would mean if there were no indictment at all.  “We have a situation where a perpetrator of genocide is threatening to commit even more crimes.  What’s the role of the international community if you allow that?  Isn’t there any moral responsibility?”


Regarding rumours that the Prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant was based partly on information provided by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Mr. Dicker explained that the United Nations had long had a relationship agreement with the International Criminal Court that allowed for such types of cooperation between the two bodies.


When asked whether such information-sharing might put peacekeeping operations and staff at risk, Mr. Dicker said:  “If the UN were to decide that it would allow a Government to bully it into silence in confining its own human rights reporting and what it did with that information, I think that would be a huge step back for the UN, its commitment to human rights, and its credibility.”


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For information media • not an official record