The International Criminal Court on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The conflict in that region between mostly Arab militias that are allegedly supported by the government against mostly non-Arab black rebels has stretched for six years, killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Bashir could be the first sitting president to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, known as the ICC. However, Bashir is a long way from a possible trial. And he has said that he will never allow himself to be tried.
The ICC issued charges against the Sudanese president for alleged offenses committed in Darfur since 2002. Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo alleges that Bashir was the mastermind behind events that led to the destruction of so many lives in the region. But the panel said there was insufficient evidence to support charges of genocide.
Bashir denies the charges.
Moreno Ocampo's application for an arrest warrant says the president holds absolute power in Sudan, and Bashir therefore shoulders the responsibility for all atrocities engineered by the government and/or by armed groups in league with the government.
An international chorus of human rights groups and Western powers maintains that the atrocities committed in Darfur have been many.
Millions of people who have been forcibly pushed from their homes are now living in camps, at the mercy of international donors. And, what's more, the camps are not safe. Moreno Ocampo alleges that the Sudanese government has sponsored repeated attacks — rapes, murder, torture — on non-Arab camp dwellers.
At the same time, an alarming number of non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur — a region the size of Texas — have taken up banditry against all civilians there, including human rights workers.
Bashir's supporters in Sudan have warned that an arrest warrant could lead to further violence in the region, prompting the U.S. and other governments to issue warnings against civilian travel to Sudan. And the head of intelligence has said the government would "sever the limbs" of any Sudanese who support ICC plans to indict Bashir.
Bashir himself reiterated Tuesday that the court has no authority over him or Sudan, adding that the court could take its decision, dissolve it in water and drink it — or eat it, depending on the translation from Arabic.