The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir (pictured) for his alleged involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. It is the first ICC warrant for a sitting head of state.
AFP - The International Criminal Court sought the arrest Wednesday of Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir for war crimes in Darfur, issuing the first ever warrant against a sitting head of state.
The government in Khartoum immediately dismissed the move as thousands of Sudanese took to the streets to vent their anger while allies of Beshir, including the African Union and Russia, said it could undermine peace.
However the warrant was hailed by Darfur's main rebel leader and international rights groups who said it was an important signal to other world leaders.
"Today, pre-trial chamber one of the International Criminal Court ... issued a warrant for the president of Sudan for war crimes and crimes against humanity," ICC spokeswoman Laurence Blairon told a press conference.
"He is suspected of being criminally responsible ... for intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur.
"This is the first warrant of arrest ever issued for a sitting head of state by the ICC."
The 65-year-old Beshir will face five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes. While Beshir would not face charges of genocide as requested by the ICC's chief prosecutor, they could be added to the warrant at a later stage if more evidence emerged, the spokeswoman added.
Blairon said Beshir bore responsibility for "exterminating, raping and forcibly transferring a large numbers of civilians" from the western Sudanese region where a six-year conflict has cost several hundred thousand lives.
She said Beshir and other high level Sudanese political and military leaders had orchestrated and coordinated the attacks.
Although there was no immediate response from Beshir, his justice minister said Khartoum would not cooperate with the court.
"We will not deal with this court," Abdel Basit Sabdarat told Al-Jazeera television. "It has no jurisdiction, it is a political decision."
Beshir himself had said on Tuesday that any warrant would "not be worth the ink" it was written with.
However chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Sudan was legally obliged to execute the arrest warrant while Blairon said the country could be referred to the UN Security Council if it failed to comply.
"The government of the Sudan is obliged under international law to execute the warrant of arrest on its territory," Moreno-Ocampo, who first asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for Beshir last year, told reporters.
Thousands of Sudanese protestors took to the streets of the capital Khartoum on Wednesday minutes after the announcement.
Security was beefed up around foreign embassies amid fear of reprisals by Beshir supporters, while diplomats urged expatriates to avoid public places and stock up on essential supplies.
The African Union, which has long argued against any warrant being issued, said it could strike a fatal blow to faltering efforts to bring peace to Darfur.
"The AU's position is that we support the fight against impunity, we cannot let crime perpetrators go unpunished," AU commission chairman Jean Ping told AFP.
"But we say that peace and justice should not collide, that the need for justice should not override the need for peace."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy for Sudan, Mikhail Margelov, also criticised the move for creating "a dangerous precedent".
However Darfur rebel chief Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur hailed the decision as "a great victory for the victims of Darfur and Sudan."
"There is a great hope that the ongoing killings will stop," he told AFP.
The ICC has no powers of enforcing its own warrants, but suspects can be arrested on the territory of states that have signed up to the court's founding Rome Statute.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.
A ceasefire has been agreed between the government and opposition groups but deadly clashes go on in the western region.
Moreno-Ocampo accuses Beshir of personally instructing his forces to annihilate three ethnic groups -- the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa.
The prosecutor says 2.7 million people have been uprooted from their homes, of whom 100,000 died of causes related to their displacement, such as starvation.
Date created : 2009-03-04