- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is at last taking action to enact justice in Sudan on behalf of the 300,000 victims of the genocidal campaign which has been raging for five years. On Monday, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked a three-judge panel to issue an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of murder, rape and deportation. Since 2003, when local tribes attacked his government, the Sudanese army and an Arab militia, the Janjaweed, have been systematically purging the darker-skinned African tribes - displacing and starving approximately 2.5 million refugees.

Critics of Mr. Moreno-Ocampo’s decision contend that his attempt to obtain an arrest warrant will destabilize Sudan, especially leading to more attacks on the 9,000 U.N.- African Union peacekeepers in the region. There are also fears that the measure will undermine attempts to establish a negotiated peace settlement between the government and rebel tribes. Indeed, in the short term, the attempt to obtain an arrest warrant - likely to be issued in the fall - may cause havoc. Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdhalhaleem Mohamed, warned of dire consequences: “If you indict our head of state, the symbol of our country, the symbol of our dignity, then the sky’s the limit for our reactions.” Sudan, like the U.S. is not a signator of the ICC and rejects its authority. The tribunal, created in 2002, is the world’s first permanent global war crimes court and has the support of 160 nations. In 2005, the Security Council gave the ICC a mandate to act in Sudan.

The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for two government officials - minister Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader, Ali Kushayb. However, Mr. Bashir has not handed them over. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo’s latest move renders this the first time that the ICC indicts a sitting head of state. Other U.N. tribunals have indicted sitting heads of state, such as Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic -who died in 2006 while he was on trial -and Liberia’s Charles Taylor, who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo is doing exactly what he should be. An indictment against Mr. Bashir renders it almost impossible for him to travel: He can be arrested any time he attempts to cross an international border. More important, once there is an arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir, his own countrymen can bring him to The Hague - if they can capture him. Similarly, the indictment against Mr. Milosevic initially raised fears of further violence, but led ultimately to his seizure by members of the Serbian secret police. Furthermore, the international community can use the indictment to exercise more pressure on China to prevent arms shipments to Sudan.

The ICC is taking a bold step in the right direction. Once an arrest warrant is issued, the pressure will mount on Mr. Bashir and his murderous regime.

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