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Sudan leader charged with three counts of genocide

International court issues second warrant

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 12, 2010

The International Criminal Court on Monday issued a second arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Bashir, this time charging him with three counts of genocide in Sudan's western province of Darfur.

Lt. Gen. Bashir is accused of "genocide by killing, genocide by causing serious bodily or mental harm and genocide by deliberately inflicting on each target group conditions of life calculated to bring about the group's physical destruction," according to a statement from the court, located in The Hague.

The court said there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that Gen. Bashir was responsible for the three counts of genocide committed against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.

Gen. Bashir denies the charges and has refused to accept the legitimacy of the ICC or to surrender to stand trial. He also has sought to undermine the ICC by painting it as an anti-Muslim, anti-Africa tool of the West.

Sudanese Information Minister Kamal Obeid on Monday criticized the ICC decision as "political," according to Agence France-Presse.

"The adding of the genocide accusation confirms that the ICC is a political court," Mr. Obeid, who is also the official government spokesman, said in a statement to the official Suna news agency, which was provided to Agence France-Presse.

Sonia Robla, the ICC's public information chief, said in a phone interview that the government of Sudan has "an obligation to cooperate with the court."

Ensuring cooperation would be up to the U.N. Security Council. The court has no police force and relies on international cooperation to arrest suspects, Ms. Robla said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the Obama administration has "strongly encouraged Sudan to cooperate fully with the ICC" in previous discussions with the Sudanese government.

This is the first time that the ICC has issued genocide charges against a sitting head of state.

The court issued its first arrest warrant for Gen. Bashir on March 4, 2009. The Sudanese leader was charged with five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape) and two counts of war crimes (intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities, and pillaging).

The ICC said the second arrest warrant "does not replace or revoke in any respect the first warrant of arrest."

J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new warrant "reaffirms and then escalates the gravity of the charges" against Gen. Bashir.

"Perhaps this new set of charges will create discomfort in individual states or regional bodies in continuing to defend him," he said.

After the first warrant was issued, Gen. Bashir curtailed his visits outside Sudan for fear of being arrested. Despite the charges against him, he is widely popular in Sudan and in other parts of Africa.

He was re-elected president by a landslide in elections in April amid widespread accusations by his opponents and rights groups of fraud, election rigging and intimidation.

The elections were mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 and part of the process toward a referendum on southern independence scheduled for January.

The Bashir government has expressed its commitment to fully implementing the peace agreement and holding the referendum on time.

According to the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission, 221 people were killed in Darfur in June. In May, more than 600 people were killed.

Niemat Ahmadi's voice drops to a whisper as she recalls helplessly watching Janjaweed militia pillage and burn her father's village in Darfur. The Janjaweed are allegedly backed by the Bashir government.

"I saw people burned alive, children burned alive but there was nothing I could do," she said. Survivors who returned to the village the next day found only the charred remains of their homes, belongings and loved ones. They were warned of dire consequences by the police if they ever talked about the attack.

The incident took place in 2002, well before the international community awoke to the atrocities being committed in Sudan's southern province.

Ms. Ahmadi, Darfuri liaison officer at the Save Darfur Coalition, said the new ICC warrant provides "big hope" to the people of Darfur that the "genocide will no longer be ignored."

She said the international community must ensure that Gen. Bashir's government does not retaliate against the people of Darfur over the genocide charges. "He is still committing atrocities against my people," she said. "World leaders must make clear to Bashir that there will be consequences for his actions."

Gen. Bashir's government expelled 13 international aid agencies working in Darfur when the court first indicted him.

The Obama administration has been split on how to deal with Gen. Bashir: Scott Gration, the administration's special envoy for Sudan, is an advocate of engagement with Gen. Bashir's government, while Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has pressed for a tougher approach.

Noting that there has been "considerable ambiguity and tension within the U.S. government over its policy approach to Sudan," Mr. Morrison said the genocide warrant has the potential to exacerbate some of those tensions.

The fact that the U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC undermines its position on ICC warrants, he said.

"Not being a signatory greatly diminishes the leverage we might have and makes it that much easier for Bashir and others to make the case against the ICC," said Mr. Morrison.

Last year, ICC judges refused to indict Gen. Bashir on genocide charges. The prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, appealed that ruling, and four months ago an appellate court ruled that the lower court's decision was legally wrong.

In an interview with the Associated Press last month, Mr. Moreno Ocampo said he was sure Gen. Bashir would one day appear in his court in The Hague.

"The destiny of Bashir is to face justice," he said. Whether it "will be five years, 10 years, 15 years, he will face justice. The problem is how many people will die, how many people will be raped? Justice can wait. Stopping the crimes cannot."

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