Judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. It is the first arrest warrant issued by the ICC for a sitting head of state.
The court named Bashir as an "indirect (co)-perpetrator" on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the warrant details Bashir's alleged crimes against civilians in Darfur: murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, as well as pillaging their property.
But the court said there was not enough evidence to charge Bashir with the crime of genocide.
In Sudan, reaction from the government was swift. At least half a dozen aid groups received notice from the government that their licenses to operate in Darfur are going to be revoked, Edmund Sanders of the Los Angeles Times tells Melissa Block.
The government had been threatening to take this action for months against foreign aid groups such as Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders that Khartoum suspects of providing information to the ICC.
If these revocations occur, they will have a "devastating impact on displaced people in Darfur, who really are living off this $1 billion humanitarian effort from foreign aid groups," Sanders says.
People in Khartoum received the news with mixed reactions: Bashir has some supporters who say they think the ICC decision is unfair. And Sanders notes that the case also has stirred up nationalist sentiment.
"Even people who ... oppose Bashir will say they really don't like the ICC coming in and trying to arrest their president or telling them what they should do," he says. "Even a human rights activist I was talking to was saying this is something that should come from within Sudan."
When asked if Bashir could be overthrown and turned over to the court for prosecution, Sanders says it is "certainly possible." But the president has no clear successor, Sanders notes, a fact that is working to his advantage.
"People are very concerned that if Bashir were to be arrested ... that it would just create a real chaos in the country, and people are more afraid of that chaos and that unknown of the future than they are of letting Bashir stay in power," Sanders says, adding that Islamist extremists or the military could step into any power vacuum.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, tells Block that Wednesday's decision is an important one for the victims in Darfur.
"[The victims] always were saying ... Bashir was responsible," he says. "Now, the court found evidence showing that Bashir is responsible for serious crimes — crimes against humanity and war crimes."
Moreno-Ocampo says that 2.5 million people are dying slowly in the refugee camps and that the court's decision recognizes that what is happening is extermination, or a crime against humanity.
The ICC stopped short of charging Bashir with genocide, although Moreno-Ocampo says one of the three judges agreed there was evidence of genocide, while the other two said they would like more evidence.
The prosecutor says the crimes against humanity enumerated by the court include extermination, which he says is a close equivalent to genocide.
He says it's possible to appeal the judges' decision, but that arresting Bashir is a "priority" and that stopping the crime is "urgent."
Bashir has denied the charges, and the Sudanese government has been defiant, arguing that the country is not a member of the ICC and that its decisions are irrelevant.
But Moreno-Ocampo notes that Sudan is a member of the United Nations.
"Sudan is not a failed state. Sudan has to be respectful and, if not, the Security Council has to take measures to ensure the execution of the warrant," the prosecutor says.
In the meantime, Moreno-Ocampo says that as soon as Bashir travels in international airspace, his plane can be intercepted and he can be arrested.
"The destiny of Mr. Omar al-Bashir is to face justice," says Moreno-Ocampo. "[It may] take two months or two years, but he will face justice."