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First attempt by international tribunal against sitting head of state

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Sudan President to be charged with genocide by ICC

 First attempt by international tribunal against sitting head of state

 By Colum Lynch and Nora Boustany
 The Washington Post

 UNITED NATIONS - The chief prosecutor of the Internationals Criminal Court
 will seek an arrest warrant Monday for Sudanese President Omar Hassan
 al-Bashir, charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity in the
 orchestration of a campaign of violence that led to the deaths of hundreds
 of thousands of civilians in the nation's Darfur region during the past
 five years, according to U.N. officials and diplomats.

 The action by the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, will mark
 the first time that the tribunal in The Hague charges a sitting head of
 state with such crimes, and represents a major step by the court to
 implicate the highest levels of the Sudanese government for the atrocities
 in Darfur.

 Some U.N. officials raised concerns Thursday that the decision would
 complicate the peace process in Darfur, possibly triggering a military
 response by Sudanese forces or proxies against the nearly 10,000 U.N. and
 African Union peacekeepers located there. At least seven peacekeepers were
 killed and 22 were injured Tuesday during an ambush by a well-organized
 and unidentified armed group.

 Representatives from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security
 Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- met
 with U.N. officials Thursday to discuss the safety of peacekeepers in
 Darfur. U.N. military planners have begun moving peacekeepers to safer
 locations and are distributing food and equipment in case the Sudanese
 government cuts off supplies.

 "All bets are off; anything could happen," said one U.N. official, adding
 that circumstantial evidence shows that the government of Sudan
 orchestrated this week's ambush. "The mission is so fragile, it would not
 take much for the whole thing to come crashing down."

 Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said rebels are
 responsible for the attack on U.N. peacekeepers, and insisted that
 Sudanese forces will not retaliate against foreign peacekeepers. However,
 he warned that the announcement of charges against Bashir or other senior
 officials would "destroy" international efforts to reach a peace
 settlement in Darfur.

 "Ocampo is playing with fire," Mohamad said. "If the United Nations is
 serious about its engagement with Sudan, it should tell this man to
 suspend what he is doing with this so-called indictment. There will be
 grave repercussions."

 Bashir has been at the center of international efforts to seek a political
 solution to the crisis. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President
 Bush have routinely reached out to Bashir on issues such as
 counterterrorism and the deployment of peacekeepers. Bush envoys have met
 regularly with Bashir, and former envoy Andrew S. Natsios delivered a
 missive from Bush to the Sudanese leader in March 2007 urging him to allow
 more U.N. and African peacekeepers in Darfur.

 "I will present my case and my evidence to the [ICC] judges, and they will
 take two to three months to decide," Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview
 Wednesday, referring to a pretrial panel made up of judges from Brazil,
 Ghana and Latvia. "We will request a warrant of arrest, and the judges
 have to evaluate the evidence." On Thursday, Moreno-Ocampo's office said
 in a statement that the prosecutor will "summarize the evidence, the
 crimes and name individual(s) charged" at a news conference Monday in The
 Hague.

 The ICC does not issue formal indictments, but simply presents its charges
 to the pretrial chamber and asks it to issue an arrest warrant for a
 suspect.

 Moreno-Ocampo has charged at least 11 people since 2004 -- in countries
 including Congo, Sudan, Uganda and the Central African Republic -- and the
 pretrial chamber has never refused a public request for an arrest warrant.

 The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when two rebel groups
 attacked Sudan's Islamic government, claiming a pattern of bias against
 the region's black African tribes. Khartoum organized a local Arab
 militia, known as the Janjaweed, and conducted a brutal counterinsurgency
 campaign that has left more than 300,000 people dead and has driven more
 than 2 million more from their homes. The Bush administration accused the
 government of genocide.

 Officials familiar with Moreno-Ocampo's investigation said Bashir is
 unlikely to surrender to the ICC anytime soon. The leader has refused to
 release to the court two other Sudanese nationals indicted in April 2007,
 even appointing one of them, Ahmed Haroun, to oversee international
 peacekeepers and humanitarian relief efforts.

 The Bush administration has long opposed the International Criminal Court,
 fearing it would conduct frivolous investigations of alleged crimes by
 U.S. service members. But the United States allowed the Security Council
 to authorize the court to investigate war crimes in Darfur.

 Critics of Moreno-Ocampo, including some inside the United Nations, said
 an arrest warrant may undercut international efforts to negotiate a
 political settlement between Khartoum and Darfur's rebel groups. But ICC
 supporters counter that Bashir has never been committed to a political
 settlement and that he will respond only to tough measures.

 "Bashir will certainly use the indictment to justify some awful reactions,
 such as humanitarian aid restrictions and further barriers" to the joint
 U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, said John Prendergast,
 co-chairman of the Enough Project, an initiative to end crimes against
 humanity. "But if the international community stands firm and makes it
 clear that these kinds of responses will only make matters worse for
 Bashir . . . then he will relent."

 ICC advocates contend that such court actions contribute to peace efforts.
 Previous indictments of world leaders -- such as former Serbian leader
 Slobodan Milosevic and former Liberian president Charles Taylor -- by
 other U.N. tribunals have ultimately contributed to stability in those
 countries, said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice
 office at Human Rights Watch.

 "I would never belittle the potential dangers" of such international
 prosecutions," Dicker said. "It is the prosecutor's job, however, to
 follow the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of the people in high
 positions, he investigates. . . . Will it be controversial? You bet. What
 is at stake here is limiting the impunity of those associated with these
 horrific events in Darfur since 2003."
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Written by torit1955

July 11, 2008 at 8:17 pm

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