4 June 2009
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE BY Coalition for international criminal court


The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) called on the Security Council to press for the surrender and trial of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and others wanted for serious crimes committed in Darfur, at a Headquarters press conference this morning.


Speaking to the press in advance of tomorrow’s briefing of the Security Council by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, were Richard Dicker, Director, International Justice Programme, Human Rights Watch, and Omer Ismail, Vice-President, Advocacy, Darfur Peace and Development, and Advisor for the Enough Project.  The briefing was moderated by CICC Programme Director Tanya Karanasios.


Opening the discussion, Ms. Karanasios recalled that, on March 4, Court judges had issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.  Arrest warrants had also been issued for the former State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Ahmed Haroun, and a Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kosheib.  On 17 May, the Court had charged a rebel leader, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, with war crimes stemming from an attack on an African Union base in South Darfur that had killed 12 peacekeepers and civilian police officers from the African Union Mission in Sudan.  Abu Garda had voluntarily made his initial appearance before the Court on 18 May.  The judges were still examining allegations in relation to two other rebel suspects, whose names had not been publicly released.


“These facts demonstrate that, in many respects, the Court has done its job, and now the United Nations Security Council States parties, the UN and regional bodies must do their job to pursue their commitment to end impunity for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” she said.  Although some African leaders had criticized the Court’s arrest warrant for al-Bashir, many civil society groups in Africa had reaffirmed their strong support for the work of the Court.


“There is no peace without justice,” said Omer Ismail, a native of El Fashir in western Sudan, characterizing the arrest warrant against al-Bashir as the most remarkable development for bringing real peace to Darfur since the crisis had started in 2003.  President al-Bashir was the head of Sudan’s Government and must be responsible for what had happened in Darfur.  The international community must help the people of Darfur to bring him to justice.  “Regardless of the position of the Government of the United States on the [Court]”, the Darfurians had also asked President [Barack] Obama for his support for the international community’s efforts to help them bring the perpetrators to justice.


The Government of the Sudan was trying everything in its power to either “kick the can up the road” by invoking Chapter 16 of the Rome Statute, which enables the Security Council to defer an investigation or prosecution for a year, or to cancel the arrest warrant, he continued.  The world should say no to such efforts.  It was important for the international community to “stop this nonsense by the Government of Sudan” and support the Court.  The truth regarding Darfur had been established by the investigation by the Court and “millions of pages of reports”, and there was no way the world could say it did not really know what had happened there.  It had been established that atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide were taking place.  The Government of Sudan had been clearly established as the culprit.  Also clearly defined had been the victim.  It was the people of Darfur.


Mr. Dicker said that it was essential to “scrape away the diplomatic double speak” and really get down to the essence of the matter.  Several hundred thousand Darfuris were dead, victims of murder, rape, forced transfer of population and extermination.  Several hundred thousand had been forced into miserable exile conditions in neighbouring countries, and well over a million were living as internally displaced persons.  The conditions in their camps had been “further savaged” by the expulsion of 13 humanitarian aid organizations by the Government of al-Bashir.  The effort to bring those most responsible to justice was the framework for everything that was going to be discussed in connection with Darfur today and tomorrow.


His expectation for the Security Council’s meeting tomorrow was that the great majority of its members would make clear their views that, although not a State party to the Court, Sudan was obligated to cooperate with the court under Security Council resolution 1593 (2005), which had referred the situation in Darfur to it.  It was unfortunate that the Council meeting following the Prosecutor’s report would take place behind closed doors.  While there was a time and place for private diplomacy, those discussions required a public airing.  It was important to enforce 1593.


“Let us not be surprised or draw the wrong conclusions from the fact that three months after the issuance of the arrest warrant the accused is still at liberty,” he said.  The fact that Omar al-Bashir remained at large hardly rendered the investigation and arrest warrant by the Court a meaningless exercise.  Among several important recent developments, he mentioned the failure of the efforts to suspend proceedings against al-Bashir, and last month’s appearance of a rebel leader before the Court.  It was also important that the efforts to make the Court appear as if it was driven by an “anti-African agenda” had been set back in recent days.  He was confident that justice would be done for the victims in Darfur.


To a question about the African Union, Mr. Dicker responded that the Union’s position was to ask the Security Council for a one-year suspension, and he expected a forthcoming meeting in Addis Ababa to reiterate that request.  However, such a postponement was not before the Council, because of the “absolute intransigence and obstruction” from the Government of Omar al-Bashir in making any changes or concessions.


Asked what action could be expected from the Security Council, Ms. Karanasios said that the Prosecutor’s Office was asking the Council to think about creating a framework to address non-cooperation issues.  She understood that part of the reason why the Council was going into closed consultations tomorrow was that it intended to hold a discussion on those issues.


Mr. Dicker added that the Council needed to begin considering such issues as travel bans and asset freezes, as well as ways of minimizing all but the most essential diplomatic contacts with the accused, including the President of Sudan.  In that connection, he highlighted a statement by South Africa not long ago, advising President al-Bashir not to come to that country to attend the inauguration of its President.  Indeed, it was necessary to develop a framework to begin implementation of 1593.


Of course, travel bans or asset freezes would not lead to President al-Bashir’s appearance in The Hague.  The real Achilles heel of the whole process was that it was up to the Sudanese authorities, first and foremost, to execute the arrest warrant.  He hoped the Sudanese authorities would do so.  It was also up to the Court State parties to execute the warrant, if President al-Bashir travelled to the territory of one of those countries.  He thought there would likely be “a reduction of business” with President al-Bashir.  He was not a clairvoyant, but he doubted the world would see him again meeting with the Pope in Rome, or visiting the Turkish President in Ankara, as he had last year.


Responding to concerns about unrealistic numbers of casualties in Darfur, as well as allegations that the issuance of the warrant was “a colonial, racist set-up” seeking to prosecute only African cases, Mr. Dicker referred correspondents to the figures used by the United Nations and international humanitarian organizations, which indicated that the number of those dead was “in the low hundreds of thousands”.  As for the past crimes in Africa under the colonial rule of a number of European regimes, those were horrific crimes, for which there had never been any accountability.  But, reference to those crimes could hardly provide justification for impunity for crimes committed today.


Mr. Ismail added, in that regard, that there were no certain figures of the victims, but the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes had recently said that, assuming the pace of killing continued, there must be 300,000 dead.  Usually, in the cases of genocide, one group, race or ethnicity turned on another.  However, in the Sudan, it was the Government of the country killing its own people.  While the Court had not agreed on the use of the term “genocide” in relation to Darfur, “in the court of public opinion” in the region, that was genocide.


Following up on that, Mr. Dicker cautioned against getting into overly legalistic discussion as to whether or not the crimes in Darfur fit this or that definition.  What was going on in Darfur was wide-spread and systematic crimes committed as part of the plan or policy by the Government of Sudan.


To a question about reported deficiencies in the Prosecutor’s Office, he said that Human Rights Watch was a firm supporter of the Court and its mission.  At the same time, “we are not cheerleaders for its leading officials.  We’ve got criticisms where we see the Court or any of its organs […] failing to implement the mandate and mission of the Court to serve the victims the Court was created to bring redress to.”  In particular, Human Rights Watch had publicly articulated concerns about staff turnover in the Office of the Prosecutor.  That did not translate into a judgement on the capability of the Prosecutor, who had one of the most difficult jobs one could ever find oneself in.  Thus, it was hardly surprising that the first occupant of the job would make mistakes, or that there would be problems.  “We criticize from a constructive perspective, looking to see improvement and change in practice,” he said.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record