4 March 2009 The International Criminal Court (ICC) today issued an arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the strife-torn Darfur region by Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, the first sitting Head of State to be indicted by the Court.
In an early reaction, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged that the United Nations’ extensive humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Sudan will continue, stressing the ICC’s status as an “independent judicial institution,” in a statement issued by his spokesperson.
Mr. Al-Bashir was indicted on two counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity. However, the Hague-based ICC’s pre-trial chamber found there was insufficient evidence to charge him with genocide, but stressed that if the prosecution presents additional evidence the warrant could be amended at a later date.
“He is suspected of being criminally responsible, as an indirect (co-)perpetrator, for intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property,” according to a press release issued by the Court.
An estimated 300,000 people have died in Darfur, either through direct combat or because of disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, over the past five years in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.
Last July, Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo presented evidence to the Court against Mr. Al-Bashir for alleged crimes in Darfur, some three years after the Security Council requested him to investigate atrocities committed in the region.
These crimes, the chamber said, were allegedly committed during the Sudanese Government’s 2003-2008 counter-insurgency campaign waged against armed groups including the Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLM-A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
It said that a key element of this campaign was the “unlawful attack” on civilians – belonging mostly to the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups seen to be allied to the groups opposing the Government in Darfur – by Sudanese forces, including the Janjaweed.
As the President of Sudan and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Mr. Al-Bashir allegedly directed the campaign and put it into place, the ICC found.
“Omar Al-Bashir’s official capacity as a sitting Head of State does not exclude his criminal responsibility, nor does it grant him immunity against prosecution before the ICC,” the press release said.
Today’s warrant issued for Mr. Al-Bashir marks the third to arise from the situation in Darfur. In May 2008, the pre-trial chamber issued arrest warrants for Ahmad Harun, former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior and now the Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, and Ali Kushayb, a Janjaweed leader.
Mr. Ban, in the statement issued by his spokesperson, called on the Sudanese Government to continue cooperating fully with all of the world body’s entities, “while fulfilling its obligation to ensure the safety and security of the civilian population, UN personnel and property, and that of its implementing partners.”
Earlier this week, the top UN peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, said that regardless of the ICC’s decision, the hybrid UN-African Union (AU) mission in Darfur (UNAMID) will continue protecting the local population.
In Darfur itself, the situation is being reported as relatively calm today, despite what a UN spokesperson called an “aerial show of force” by the Government near El Fasher, North Darfur, and Nyala, South Darfur.
Following the ICC announcement, there were also peaceful demonstrations in those cities as well as El Geneina, West Darfur, and more demonstrations have been scheduled for tomorrow, Secretary-General Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas said.
UNAMID reports that its police and peacekeepers continue to carry out their normal patrolling activities and are closely monitoring developments throughout the region, particularly in and around camps for displaced persons.
According to Mr. Ban’s spokesperson, the Secretary-General is concerned by reports that between six and 10 humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – including Oxfam, Solidarité and Mercy Corps – have had their legal registrations revoked by Sudanese authorities, with some also having their assets seized.
“He notes that this represents a serious setback to live-saving operations in Darfur, and urges the Government of Sudan to act urgently to restore these NGOs to their full operational status.”
These organizations were given a list of assets for seizure and told they must leave North Sudan immediately, according to the UN, which was also notified that Government officials have insisted on accompanying some international NGO staff into their offices and taking lists of assets and staff.
“Affected NGOs are the main providers of life-saving humanitarian services, such as water, food, health and sanitation,” the spokesperson stressed. “Their departure will have an immediate and serious effect on the humanitarian and security situation in North Sudan, especially in Darfur.”
News Tracker: past stories on this issue