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Human Rights Groups Cheer ICC Warrant For Sudanese President

  • Nikola Krastev

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir parades in the streets of Khartoum on March 4. Al-Bashir has rejected the court's verdict and ejected foreign aid groups from the country.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir parades in the streets of Khartoum on March 4. Al-Bashir has rejected the court's verdict and ejected foreign aid groups from the country.

NEW YORK -- The International Criminal Court's (ICC) issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity has energized human rights groups around the world.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group hailed the arrest warrant as a "turning point for Sudan," the New York-based Freedom House called it "a welcome step toward justice," and London-based Amnesty International urged al-Bashir to surrender immediately to face trial.

The ICC warrant says al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, forcible displacement, and other crimes. But the court said it did not find sufficient grounds to include the count of genocide in al-Bashir's arrest warrant.

ICC spokeswoman Laurence Blairon, speaking at a news conference in The Hague, said al-Bashir's presidential office does not give him immunity against prosecution.

The warrant marks the first arrest order for a sitting head of state issued by the court, which was set up in 2002 as the world's first permanent tribunal for prosecuting war crimes. Al-Bashir has said he will ignore the warrant. He is in no immediate danger of detention.

The Khartoum government said it will not cooperate in executing the arrest warrant. And the ICC has no power to enforce it own warrants. Instead, suspects can be arrested on the soil of countries that have signed the ICC's founding statute. That comprises more than 100 states -- but does not include Sudan.

'Ending The Helplessness'

Despite the obvious limitations of the warrant, Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, describes the issuance of the arrest warrant as a "momentous day" for the International Criminal Court and the cause of ending impunity for serious crimes under international law.

Dicker says issuing the warrant is a condemnation of "the mass murder of civilians, the use of rape as a weapon of intimidation or war, the forcible displacement of whole populations on the basis of their ethnicity. So this is a significant, momentous day and I would say the decision of the judges of the ICC that we heard this morning, is really of seismic proportions."

Niemat Ahmadi, the Darfuri liaison officer at the Save Darfur Coalition, says she is elated by the decision because it shows that the international community cares about what happens in Darfur. Ahmadi says that in the near term, the Sudanese government may increase its assaults on the Darfuri population, but she hopes that under international pressure Khartoum will eventually relent.

Sudanese man burns a poster of the ICC prosecutor. Sudan has called the charges a "colonialist ploy."
"[It] will change the mood of frustration and sense of helplessness for our people who are continuing to endure [hardship]. There was no hope for any solution and now they can feel that there is a way for their problems to be addressed and the right can be brought back," Ahmadi says.

"There may be a critical situation for today or tomorrow, they may think to retaliate against our people, but in the face of justice they will not be able to do that anymore."

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million people have fled their homes since the Darfur conflict began in 2003.

International Obstacles

Al-Bashir denies the ICC accusations and has given notice that he will defy the court. Speaking on March 3 to an audience at the opening of a new dam, the Sudanese president said the court's decision will have "no value" for him.

Immediately following the announcement of the verdict on March 4, Sudan expelled 10 foreign aid agencies and shut down two Sudanese agencies that it said had cooperated with the ICC, Reuters reported. Sudan has accused some aid groups of passing information to the ICC prosecutor.

The agencies included Britain's Oxfam and Save The Children, U.S.-based Care, CHF, and the International Rescue Committee, as well as Medecins Sans Frontiers Holland and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The Arab League and the African Union have been urging the UN Security Council to use its power to stop the ICC moving against al-Bashir. Russia and China have also favored a deferral. Russia called the issuing of the arrest warrant a "dangerous precedent" in international relations. But the United States, Britain, and France have said they see no reason to defer the process.

Sudan's ambassador to the UN, Abdalmahmood Mohamad, who denied the charges against al-Bashir, said that if there are legal issues related to the president's conduct, they will be addressed by the Sudanese courts.

That's a scenario that Ahmadi of the Save Darfur Coalition says wouldn't bring about justice.

"The difference between [us] and the other Western countries -- [the ICC] is the difference! People are able, like today, you are able to issue [an arrest warrant] against the president, and you can be able to find lawyers that will stand with you," she says.

"But in our case the government is the judge, the court, and everything in the country. So that is the case in our [country]: there is no justice at all."
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