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Sudan rejects ICC's war crimes accusation

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2008-10-25

The International Criminal Court’s call for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s arrest has triggered a sharp rebuke from Khartoum and tightened security measures across the region.


Hours after the International Criminal Court (ICC) formally called for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur on Monday, the Sudanese government roundly rejected the charges and warned they could undermine peace efforts in the region.


In an interview with FRANCE 24 on Monday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Sammani al-Wassila denied that war crimes had been committed in Darfur and dismissed the ICC’s arrest call as a politically-motivated move.   


“There is no mass murder in Darfur,” al-Wassila told FRANCE 24. “It’s on a political basis,” he added, referring to the ICC’s charges. “It’s for political, rather than judicial reasons.”


Warning that the ICC’s arrest call could jeopardise peace talks, al-Wassila said the fighting factions in Darfur “needed encouragement to come to the negotiating table.” But the latest development, he said, “sends a negative message and will not encourage them to come to the table.”


Al-Wassila’s warning was echoed by the African Union on Monday. "The AU's position is that nothing should be done that might jeopardise the peace processes in Sudan," a spokesman for the AU commission told the AFP.


But international rights experts have dismissed Sudan’s claims that the ICC warrant request would affect peace efforts in Darfur. “The peace process in Darfur has been dead long before this request for an arrest warrant,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “I don’t think you can attribute the stalled peace process to the ICC."


‘Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan’


Earlier on Monday, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told judges that the Sudanese president bore criminal responsibility for alleged atrocities committed in Darfur over the past five years.


In his request, Moreno–Ocampo said “Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups on account of their ethnicity.” He accused al-Bashir of using the Sudanese armed forces and recruiting Janjaweed militia to commit genocide.



The ICC prosecutor noted that 35,000 people had been killed outright in attacks while 2.5 million others were subject to a campaign of "rape, hunger and fear" in refugee camps.


The ICC judges can now begin debating whether to issue an arrest warrant against al-Bashir, the first serving president to be pursued by an international court.


While the ICC judges have no deadline to issue an arrest warrant, the UN Security Council has the power to intervene to defer any prosecution for a year.


Speaking to reporters in Khartoum Monday, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha said the government was in discussions with Security Council members “especially China and Russia” in an attempt to block a formal arrest warrant.



Security tightened due to backlash fears


In a statement issued by his spokesman in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected Khartoum to ensure the safety of UN staff in the region despite the recent charges against al-Bashir.


The joint UN-African Union Darfur mission, UNAMID, has evacuated its non-essential staff from the region, but continues to maintain its operations in the crisis-ridden zone.


Amid rising fears of retaliation in international aid circles, Taha said the Sudanese government would attempt to protect international aid workers in the region. But, he warned, “nobody can guarantee full security” due to the growing domestic outcry against the ICC accusations.


In Washington, a US State Department spokesman said the US had tightened security at its embassy in Khartoum and offices in southern Sudanese city of Juba in case of any backlash.


Several international aid agencies have also tightened security in the region, fearing an upsurge in violence by al-Bashir’s supporters.


On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators rallied in Khartoum on Sunday at a protest rally organised by the Sudanese ruling party.


Shortly after the ICC news made the headlines, a few dozen people protested outside the British embassy and the U.N. headquarters in Khartoum, according to the Reuters news service.


Reporting from Khartoum, FRANCE 24 correspondent Latif Zouhir said the latest ICC charge had turned al-Bashir into “a true hero” in the troubled east African country. “The Sudanese people see the ICC’s charges as an attack by the United States and the West in general.”


Referring to Sunday’s demonstrations, Zouhir said they were attended by “all the (Sudanese) political parties - even those not in government – to express their solidarity with the president. That will change the political environment in Sudan. ”


Date created : 2008-07-15