SUDAN WATCH: Diplomats say Judges approve Bashir arrest warrant - UN chief knows of ICC decision to indict Sudan's president over Darfur?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Diplomats say Judges approve Bashir arrest warrant - UN chief knows of ICC decision to indict Sudan's president over Darfur?

According to several news reports copied here below, UN diplomats and officials say judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have decided to indict Sudan's president for war crimes in Darfur.

Officials say on the condition of anonymity that the court will issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. They say the decision will be made public later this month.

It is not clear whether the Hague-based court will indict him on all 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes brought by the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo.

A report (copied here below) in this morning's New York Times says the ICC decision to issue a warrant against Sudan's president has been conveyed to the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and is expected to be formally announced at the court, officials at the United Nations said.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir

Photo: Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, center, at the 12th African Union Summit in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Feb. 4, 2009. (Antony Njuguna/Reuters/NYT)

From New York Times, United States
Judges Approve Warrant for Sudan’s President
By MARLISE SIMONS and NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: February 11, 2009
THE HAGUE — Judges at the International Criminal Court have decided to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, brushing aside diplomatic requests to allow more time for peace negotiations in the conflict-riddled Darfur region of his country, according to court lawyers and diplomats.

It is the first time the court has sought the detention of a sitting head of state, and it could further complicate the tense, international debate over how to solve the crisis in Darfur.

Ever since international prosecutors began seeking an arrest warrant last year, opponents have pressed the United Nations Security Council to use its power to suspend the proceedings. But a majority of Council members have argued that the case should go forward, saying Mr. Bashir has not done enough to stop the bloodshed to deserve a reprieve.

Many African and Arab nations counter that issuing a warrant for Mr. Bashir’s arrest could backfire, diminishing Sudan’s willingness to compromise for the sake of peace. Others, including some United Nations officials, worry that a warrant could inspire reprisal attacks against civilians, aid groups or the thousands of international peacekeepers deployed there.

The precise charges cited by the judges against Mr. Bashir have not been disclosed. But when the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, first requested an arrest warrant in July, he said he had evidence to support charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to a military campaign that “purposefully targeted civilians” and had been “masterminded” by Mr. Bashir.

Lawyers familiar with the case said the court had already sought to freeze the president’s assets but had found his possessions to be hidden behind other names.

The decision to issue a warrant against him, reached by a panel of judges in The Hague, has been conveyed to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and is expected to be formally announced at the court, officials at the United Nations said.

The prosecutor became involved in the case after the Security Council asked him to investigate the conflict in Darfur, where massacres, disease and starvation have led to the deaths of up to 300,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

Although there has been sporadic fighting in Darfur for decades, the conflict significantly intensified in 2003, when rebel groups demanding greater autonomy for the region attacked Sudanese forces. The Arab-led government responded with a ferocious counterinsurgency campaign, which the court’s prosecutor called a genocidal strategy against Darfur’s black African ethnic groups.

Relations between Mr. Ban and Mr. Bashir continue to be strained by Sudanese government actions in Darfur and by Mr. Ban’s refusal to deal with Mr. Bashir directly.

But on Sunday the two men had an unscheduled encounter at a summit meeting in Ethiopia. Diplomats described it as “a stormy meeting” and “a shouting match” in which Mr. Bashir vented his anger at the court, though it is independent of the United Nations. Mr. Ban, in turn, insisted on the safety of United Nations staff members and peacekeepers, and demanded that Mr. Bashir stop the attacks on civilians.

The prospect of an arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir has already caused a diplomatic rift, with the African Union and members of the Arab League asking the Security Council to exercise its right to postpone any moves against the president for a year, arguing that he might still help bring a settlement in Darfur. Once an arrest warrant is issued, the Council can request that it be postponed.

There is broad concern that removing Mr. Bashir from power could threaten a landmark peace treaty between the Sudanese government and rebels in the southern part of the country. The treaty was signed in 2005 to end a civil war in which 2.2 million people died, far more than in Darfur.

Mr. Bashir fought members of his own party to approve that peace deal, and it is widely seen as critical to holding the country together.

On Wednesday, the Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, dismissed the court’s decision as “not deserving the ink used to print it.” The ambassador accused the court of being a political tool of mostly Western powers that want to fragment Sudan.

Mr. Abdalhaleem contended that in separate talks at the United Nations last fall with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top European officials, Sudan was promised that Western powers would support a suspension of the prosecution if the country cooperated with United Nations peacekeeping efforts, pursued peace talks and more aggressively pursued war criminals.

“We are moving on all those tracks,” he said, though human rights groups and diplomats disagree.

A top United Nations official said Mr. Ban’s advisers were now struggling to forge a policy that supports the court’s pursuit of justice but avoids wrecking Sudanese cooperation with the complex missions there.

The court has issued two other arrest warrants in connection with the Darfur conflict, one for a former government minister, Ahmad Harun, and another for Ali Kushayb, a leader of a government-backed militia. Neither has been arrested.

The prosecutor has also accused three rebel leaders of the killing of 12 African Union peacekeepers. They have said publicly that they will surrender to the court.

Marlise Simons reported from The Hague, and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations.
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FURTHER REPORTS:

From Reuters Wed Feb 11, 2009 7:45pm EST by Louis Charbonneau - excerpt:
ICC to indict Sudan's Bashir over Darfur-diplomats
Judges at the International Criminal Court have decided to indict Sudan's president for war crimes in Darfur and issue a warrant for his arrest, U.N. diplomats and officials said on Wednesday.

"The ICC decided it wants him arrested," a diplomat at the United Nations told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Some U.N. officials also said they understood that to be the decision by the ICC, based in The Hague. They said it had been widely expected and would be made public later this month. [...]

An ICC spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the decision was in the hands of the judges. It was not immediately clear whether Bashir had been indicted on all 10 counts of genocide and other war crimes listed by the prosecutor or just some of them.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office has not been notified by the ICC of its decision, although he expects to receive some form of notification before the end of the month, diplomats and U.N. officials said.

Sudan has ruled out handing over Bashir or two other Sudanese citizens previously indicted by the court for suspected war crimes in Darfur.

Khartoum has said it would continue cooperating with U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan even if Bashir is indicted, but has warned there may be widespread demonstrations of public outrage.

'DIFFICULT SITUATION'

Britain's Africa minister, Mark Malloch Brown, spoke to reporters on Tuesday as if an ICC indictment of Bashir had already been decided. He also expressed the hope the fragile peace process would continue.

"We will face a very difficult situation after this indictment, and I just hope people of goodwill will go on trying to find ways forward," Malloch Brown said.

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, dismissed the decision of the court.

"It will mean nothing to us and doesn't deserve ink with which it is written," he told Reuters. "We will never be shaken by this criminal attempt to pollute our political life and sabotage our efforts for development and peace."

Some U.N. officials worry the Sudanese government might encourage reprisals against international peacekeepers. Ban said on Tuesday that Bashir and his government must "react very responsibly and ensure safety of (U.N.) peacekeepers."

The secretary-general met Bashir on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa last week.

U.N. officials said blue helmet peacekeepers in Darfur had no mandate to act on ICC arrest warrants in Sudan but would go about their business of protecting civilians there. (Editing by Peter Cooney)
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From Times Online Thursday, 12 February 2009
International Criminal Court sets sights on Sudan's Omar al-Bashir:
The International Criminal Court is to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over the alleged genocide in Darfur, according to reports.

The move by a panel of judges in The Hague marked the first time that the world's first independent, permanent tribunal on war crimes has sought the detention of a sitting head of state since it began its work in 2002.

According to The New York Times, precise charges cited by the judges against Mr al-Bashir had not been disclosed.

Last year, ICC's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the court for an arrest warrant for Mr al-Bashir on 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said last year a military campaign that "purposefully targeted civilians" had been "masterminded" by Mr al-Bashir.

UN officials said the decision on the warrant was communicated to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and was expected to be formally announced at the court in the coming days.

A majority of Security Council members have argued that the case against Mr al-Bashir should go forward, saying he has not done enough to stop the bloodshed in Darfur to deserve a reprieve.

Japan's UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu, the president of the Security Council this month, said: "The council has not been informed yet."


Many African and Arab nations counter that issuing a warrant for Mr al-Bashir's arrest could backfire, diminishing Sudan's willingness to compromise for the sake of peace, The New York Times reported. Others, including some UN officials, worry that a warrant could inspire reprisal attacks against civilians, aid groups or the thousands of international peacekeepers deployed there, the paper said.

Lawyers familiar with the case told the paper the court had already sought to freeze the president's assets but had found his possessions to be hidden behind other names.

Sudan's UN Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad said yesterday: "We have not been told about this but it would not be a surprise to us. It does not concern us."

According to the United Nations, 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since rebels in Darfur rose up against the Khartoum government in February 2003. Sudan puts the death toll at 10,000.

Although there has been sporadic fighting in Darfur for decades, the conflict intensified in 2003, when rebel groups demanding greater autonomy for the region attacked Sudanese forces. The Arab-led government responded with a ferocious counterinsurgency, which the court's prosecutor called a genocidal strategy against Darfur's black African ethnic groups.

On Tuesday, Mr Ban urged Khartoum to act "very responsibly" if an arrest warrant is issued for Mr al-Bashir.

The UN chief told a press conference that whatever decision the ICC reached, "it will be very important for President al-Bashir and the Sudanese government to react very responsibly and ensure the safety and security'' of UN peacekeepers (in Darfur) and protect the human rights of the population".

In Washington, the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 180 US faith-based, advocacy and human rights organisations, said UN member states must not continue "to do business as usual with al-Bashir once he is an indicted war criminal".

"At a minimum, countries should not allow him to travel to their territory and should limit diplomatic interaction with him in Khartoum to efforts to end the crisis in Darfur and bring peace to all of Sudan," it said.

The group said the Sudanese government should be warned that it would be "held responsible for any pre-emptive or retaliatory action against civilians, humanitarian aid workers, or UN and African Union peacekeeping forces."
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From Deutsche Welle, Germany 12 February 2009 - excerpt:
Reports: ICC Issues Arrest Warrant for Sudanese President
The New York Times and Reuters news agency, citing court lawyers and diplomats, reported Wednesday, Feb. 11, that the International Criminal Court in The Hague would seek the arrest of Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The court has notified United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki- moon that a warrant will be issued, officials at UN headquarters told the Times.

The move has been widely expected by UN insiders and would be made public later this month, Reuters reported.
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From Voice of America by VOA News Thursday, February 12, 2009
International Court To Indict Sudan's President

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Istanbul Turkey

Photo: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, left, is flanked by African delegates as he attends a Turkey-Africa Cooperation meeting in Istanbul (AP File/VOA)
U.N. diplomats and officials say judges at the International Criminal Court have decided to indict Sudan's president for war crimes in Darfur.

Officials say on the condition of anonymity that the court will issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir. They say the decision will be made public later this month.

It is not clear whether the Hague-based court will indict him on all 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes brought by the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo.

On Tuesday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Sudan must cooperate fully with whatever decision the court makes and should ensure the safety of U.N. peacekeepers and civilians in the country.

Sudan has rejected the court's authority. Sudanese officials say the safety of peacekeepers in Sudan is not in jeopardy, buy they say authorities cannot control public outrage if an arrest warrant is issued for the president.

The developments come as a key Darfur rebel group holds peace talks in Qatar with the Sudanese government. The rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement accused Sudan's government Wednesday of undermining the talks by allowing army troops to advance towards rebel positions on the ground in Darfur.

Also Wednesday, key members of the U.S. Congress urged the Obama administration to quickly focus on the situation in Sudan and to appoint a presidential envoy to the country. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also called on the administration to help Sudanese leaders implement a fragile peace deal that ended years of fighting between the Khartoum government and southern rebels.
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From Aljazeera.net, Qatar by Al Jazeera and agencies February 12, 2009:
Sudan dismisses Bashir arrest move
Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir

Photo: Prosecutors want al-Bashir indicted for orchestrating a "genocide" in Sudan's western Darfur region [AFP]

Sudan's ambassador to the UN has vowed his country will not co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) amid reports it has issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president.

His comments came after an unnamed diplomat at the UN told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the ICC had "decided it wants [al-Bashir] arrested".

The New York Times newspaper also earlier reported prosecutors had evidence that al-Bashir had committed war crimes in the country's conflict-ridden Darfur region.

But Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, Sudan's envoy to the UN, told Al Jazeera any arrest warrant against al-Bashir "means nothing to us".

"We are not going to be surprised if this decision is issued today or tomorrow or if it has already been issued," he said.

"Because we know this court is a political court, a politically motivated decision, it will never bother us at all. It means nothing to us. We are in no way going to co-operate with this decision."

'Co-operation' call

ICC prosecutors said last year that they had evidence that al-Bashir had committed war crimes, but the precise charges against the president have not been disclosed.

"We are in no way going to co-operate with this decision" - Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem,  Sudan's envoy to the UN

It would be the first time the ICC has sought the detention of a sitting head of state since it was established in 2002.
Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey said the UN secretary-general's office had said it had not been notified of any ICC decision and declined to comment.

But Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, had on Tuesday urged the Sudanese leader to co-operate with the ICC if a warrant is issued.

"He [Bashir] should fully co-operate with whatever decisions the ICC makes," Ban told reporters at the UN headquarters.

'Genocide' rejected

But Abdalhaleem dismissed the ICC as a "hostage to the political will of some powers on the [UN] Security Council".

"If the secretary-general wants us to believe that the court is independent, then he should stop becoming its spokesperson," he said.

Last year Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief ICC prosecutor, asked the court's judges to indict al-Bashir for orchestrating what he described as a campaign of genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region in which 35,000 people were killed in 2003 alone.

UN officials say at least 2.5 million were left homeless and have put the death toll as high as 300,000.

Sudan has rejected the use of the term genocide and said 10,000 people died.

The Sudan government has said that it would continue co-operating with UN peacekeepers in the country even if al-Bashir is indicted, but has warned there may be widespread demonstrations of public outrage.
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UPDATE THURSDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2009
See Sudan Watch Thursday, February 12, 2009 New York Times & Reuters were misinformed? ICC says no arrest warrant yet for Sudan's President Al-Bashir (Update 1)

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