ICC May Seek Warrant For Sudan President

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court may seek an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar Bashir on charges of genocide in the country's Darfur region. It would be the first time a sitting head of state has been charged by the court.

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The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is expected to accuse Sudan's president of committing genocide in Darfur. It would be the first time the court has tried to charge a sitting leader.

On Monday, the prosecutor's expected to ask the court to issue arrest warrants against Omar al-Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials. That's sure to bring a sharp response from the Sudanese. They have so far refused to cooperate with the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The last time prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo briefed the U.N. Security Council on his investigations, he said all of Darfur is a crime scene.

Mr. LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO (Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Court): The evidence shows the use of the entire state apparatus to attack and eliminate communities in Darfur.

KELEMEN: He scheduled the news conference on Monday in The Hague to name individuals he wants charged. And diplomats and human rights activists are expecting them to go right to the top, to ask judges to issue an arrest warrant against Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir. The Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations Abdul-Mahmoud Abdul-Halim Mohammed is calling on the Security Council to stop the prosecutor from taking a step he says will destabilize his country.

Mr. ABDUL-MAHMOUD ABDUL-HALIM MOHAMMED (Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations): Went a head of the state, the symbol of the dignity (unintelligible) of the country's indicted, there's a limit (unintelligible) for the reaction.

KELEMEN: Sudan is not a member of the court and has refused to hand over two people already indicted. The ambassador says Sudan has no plans to comply with any new arrest warrants. Activists, including Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition, say any legal moves against Bashir will take the pressure on the government to a whole new level.

Mr. JERRY FOWLER (President, Save Darfur Coalition): What Bashir has been doing is writing a textbook for defiance of the Security Council. And now the question is what will be the next chapter in that textbook and whether or not the Security Council is finally willing to assume its responsibility to deal with the situation in Darfur.

KELEMEN: It was the Security Council that referred the case of Darfur to the international criminal court three years ago, but Fowler says the council hasn't followed up on that and has not done enough to get a better equipped and stronger peacekeeping force into Darfur either.

Mr. FOWLER: So they've punted on everything - protection, peace and accountability.

KELEMEN: A United Nations African union peacekeeping force is in Darfur but in much smaller numbers than promised. This week, it came under attack and seven U.N. peacekeepers were killed.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence. Asked yesterday whether an arrest warrant against Bashir would further complicate his efforts to get an effective force on the ground, Ban Ki-moon remained fairly tight-lipped.

Secretary General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): In principle, I believe that peace and justice should go hand in hand.

KELEMEN: A former U.N. adviser on Genocide Prevention, Juan Mendez, says there's never a perfect time for the international criminal court to consider charges against Sudanese officials, but he's always been in favor of turning up the heat on Khartoum.

Mr. JUAN MENDEZ (Special Adviser, Prevention of Genocide): Chances are that these indictments are going to create quite a bit of a political stir up, but perhaps that's what we need.

KELEMEN: I mean, there are a lot of people who say that that complicates the situation.

Mr. MENDEZ: Yes, yes. And I respect their view. I understand that argument. But I think, quite frankly, this path of not pushing too much on this so that we can get that other thing from Khartoum has not proven effective in the last four, five years either.

KELEMEN: Sudan's ambassador wonders how the U.N. will be able to deal with an indicted government. U.S. officials, meantime, are appealing for calm, clearly worried about a backlash after this coming Monday's announcement.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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