ICC decides on Bashir warrant

March 4, 2009 12:00 am

, THE HAGUE, Mar 4 – The International Criminal Court decides on Wednesday whether or not to indict Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The decision will be announced at 1300 GMT at a press conference in The Hague, where Beshir faces the prospect of becoming the first sitting head of state to be hauled before the tribunal since it began work in 2002.

The 65-year-old Bashir, who prosecutors say ordered Sudan’s military and militias to wipe out three ethnic groups engaged in a rebellion in Darfur, was defiant and dismissive on the eve of learning his fate.

"Any decision by the International Criminal Court has no value for us. It will not be worth the ink it is written on," he said on Tuesday as he inaugurated a dam project on the Nile north of Khartoum.

However, chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who first called for an arrest warrant to be issued against Bashir back in July last year, said he had strong evidence against the leader of Africa’s biggest country.

"We have more than 30 different witnesses who will present how he managed and controlled everything," he told journalists.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Sudan’s western Darfur region in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.

Moreno-Ocampo accuses Bashir of personally instructing his forces to annihilate three ethnic groups – the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa – and says some 2.5 million people have been victimised by his actions.

Tasked by the UN Security Council, the office of the prosecutor has been probing the Darfur conflict since 2005.

In May 2007, the ICC issued arrest warrants for crimes in Darfur against Sudanese government minister Ahmad Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, which Khartoum has refused to honour.

Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentinian lawyer, also sought warrants for three thus far unidentified Darfur rebel leaders in November last year over a deadly attack on African peacekeepers in 2007.

The ICC has no powers of enforcing its own arrest warrants, but suspects can be arrested on the territory of states who have signed up to the court’s founding Rome Statute.

Bashir’s regime rejects ICC jurisdiction and Beshir denies the charges. Moreno-Ocampo is seeking the Sudanese leader’s indictment on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Arab and African ministers have urged the ICC to at least delay any legal action against Bashir for the sake of peace in Darfur.

Darfur’s strongest rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), has threatened to refocus efforts to topple Bashir if a warrant is issued and he fails to cooperate.


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