Washington briefing: Sudan’s leader wanted over Darfur crimes

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday March 06, 2009

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan visits Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Jan. 2008. AP Photo

Washington - In a landmark ruling against a sitting head of state, the Hague-based International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, news agencies reported.

The March 4 warrant charged Mr. Bashir, who has been ruling Sudan for 20 years, with crimes against humanity, murder, and forcible displacement in Darfur. The court said that its investigators did not find enough grounds to charge Mr. Bashir with genocide, however.

In response, Sudan ejected foreign-aid groups and said it would defy the ruling. The warrant was also opposed by the African Union and the Arab League, as well as China and Russia.

The White House reacted cautiously to the ICC ruling, with a spokesperson for President Barack Obama saying that in general the United States believed that all those who committed atrocities in Darfur should be held accountable and that there should be an immediate end to violence.

United Nations officials estimate that several hundred thousand have died and some 2.7 million have been displaced during a six-year campaign against rebel groups in Sudan's Darfur province.

The warrant is a first against a ruling head of state by the court. Set up in 2002, the court can only prosecute crimes committed since its establishment and has, in addition to Darfur, investigated allegations of crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. Last January it launched its first-ever trial against a Congolese militia leader.

While the International Criminal Court has no power to enforce its warrants, wanted individuals could be detained in 108 states that have signed on to the court's Rome statute and have ratified it. While most European and Latin American countries and many African countries are members of the court, China, Russia and the United States are not. In the former Soviet space, only Georgia and Tajikistan have joined the court so far.

The ruling was welcomed by the Armenian National Committee of America. The ANCA has for years campaigned with groups like the Save Darfur Coalition for tougher U.S. action to stop the violence that the Bush administration described as genocide.

In recent weeks, as part of the campaign to win official U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, the ANCA has been highlighting the ties between Mr. Bashir and the Turkish government, in what it has dubbed an "axis of genocide."

Last year, Turkey decided not to accede to the court amid worries that some of its military commanders could be prosecuted over their tactics against Kurdish rebels, Zaman reported at the time.

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