President Obama supports implementing the war crimes indictment by the International Criminal Court against Sudanese President Omar Bashir, a strong indication of the tough approach the new administration will take toward Sudan as well as its favorable view of an international body the Bush administration refused to join.
Corrected paragraph: “We support the ICC in its pursuit of those who’ve perpetrated war crimes. We see no reason to support deferral [of the indictment] at this time,” said Ben Chang, a spokesman for Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones.
Mr. Obama gave his support for an arrest warrant — which could be handed down within days — despite concerns that pursuing charges against Gen. Bashir could provoke Khartoum to retaliate against humanitarian groups and plunge the country into even more bloodshed and chaos.
Top Obama administration officials such as Susan Rice, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have long advocated a hard line toward the Bashir regime. Ms. Rice, who worked on peacekeeping issues in the Clinton White House and as assistant secretary of state for African affairs during President Clinton’s second term, is said to have been scarred by the U.S. and international failure to prevent the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which nearly 1 million people were killed.
Top regional specialists who have participated in negotiations with Khartoum caution that support for the Bashir arrest warrant would send the Obama administration down a path of confrontation that could further destabilize Sudan and say it isn’t clear how authorities would carry out the arrest.
“Hold off this loopy idea of prosecuting the head of state who has signed the absolutely pivotal peace agreement,” said Alex de Waal, an Africa specialist who advised Robert B. Zoellick, who was a U.S. envoy to Sudan during talks that led to a 2005 treaty between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south.
“How do you negotiate with someone and then say, ‘We’re going to drag you off to jail?’ ” Mr. de Waal asked. “The guy’s a criminal, but that’s not the point.”
Humanitarian groups working with some of the 2.5 million people displaced by the fighting in Darfur are concerned that Gen. Bashir will retaliate against them.
“We are worried that an indictment might lead to violence and are taking every step possible to try to mitigate against that risk,” said Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, a coalition of 175 nongovernmental organizations that work in developing nations.
The aid community, Mr. Worthington said, is “the easiest target.”
“They’re unarmed. They’re working in a war zone. We’ve made it very clear to the United Nations and the government of the Sudan that they need to avoid any attack on our community in retaliation for an indictment.”
The Obama administration has signaled awareness of potential blowback if a warrant is issued. Ms. Rice said Tuesday that Sudanese bombing of rebel groups in a Darfuri town, Muhajiriya, was in “anticipation of an arrest warrant.” She called on the Bashir regime to stop the bombing and allow a U.N. and African Union joint peacekeeping force (UNAMID) into the area.
“The onus is on the government to halt all aerial bombardment, to allow UNAMID to have complete freedom of movement, and to … effectively carry out its mandate to protect civilians,” she said.
The bombing follows two weeks of fighting in and around Muhajiriya, which was seized by a rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement.View Entire Story
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