UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The Sudanese president’s decision to expel 13 foreign aid groups from Darfur shows the International Criminal Court is right to pursue him on war crimes charges in the region, the court’s chief prosecutor said Friday.
President Omar al-Bashir expelled the groups shortly after the court issued an arrest warrant for him March 4. The move raised immediate warnings of a humanitarian disaster, as most of the 3 million people who have fled the fighting in Darfur rely on U.N. agencies and international aid groups for their survival.
Al-Bashir’s Arab-led government has been battling ethnic African rebels in the region since 2003, and an estimated 300,000 people have died in fighting. In all, about 4.7 million people in Darfur depend on humanitarian aid.
“This idea to expel the humanitarians is confirming the court decision,” the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, told reporters after the U.N. Security Council met for an update on the Darfur crisis. “Expelling them is confirming the crimes.”
Al-Bashir has denied the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, accused the aid groups of cooperating with the Netherlands-based court, and threatened to expel other groups, along with foreign missions and U.N.-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur.
But Moreno-Ocampo said the court case against Sudan’s president relies on “zero, zero, zero information” from the non-governmental organizations that deliver food, medicine and other aid.
“I respect different mandates _ I never requested information from any of these NGOs,” Moreno-Ocampo added.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and other council members urged Sudan to reverse its decision to kick out the 13 aid groups, which provided the majority of the roughly 14,000 humanitarian workers in Darfur. Rice said the lives of 1.5 million people are in danger.
“President Bashir and his government are responsible for and must be held accountable for each and every death caused by these callous and calculated actions,” Rice said.
But the president will never back down from his decision, Sudanese diplomat Mohamed Yousif Ibrahim Abdelmannan told the council, calling the move “legitimate” and “sovereign.”
Sudan does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction. Many African and Arab nations have expressed support for al-Bashir, saying they fear the arrest warrant could bring even more conflict in Darfur.
Already there are “significant signs of an erosion of humanitarian response capacity” in Darfur, Rashid Khalikov, director of the New York-based U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the council.
For example, in Zam Zam camp near the North Darfur capital of El Fasher, the departure of two key aid groups leaves the remaining, smaller groups to cope with more than 36,000 people newly arrived from the conflict, Khalikov said.