U.N. Urged to Persist With Sudan Leader's War Crimes Case

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 3 -- The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court appealed to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to resist calls by African, Arab and Islamic states to defer prosecution of Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The prosecutor, Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno-Ocampo, told the council that Bashir continues to oversee a campaign of mass murder in Darfur, in western Sudan, forcing more than 300,000 people from their homes this year and leaving as many as 5,000 people dead each month. "Genocide continues," Moreno-Ocampo told the 15-nation council.

His remarks come about a month before ICC judges are expected to rule on a request by the prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir, which would make him the first Arab leader indicted by an international court on war crimes charges.

In recent months, Bashir has persuaded the African Union and the Arab League to press the Security Council to invoke a provision of the international court's charter -- Article 16 -- that allows it to defer action against an indictee. South Africa and Libya reiterated the call for postponement during Wednesday's session, saying such action could undermine peace talks.

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said Moreno-Ocampo was an "unguided missile" who was pursuing a "politically motivated" campaign against Sudan's leader. "We all know that war brings with it atrocities, unfortunately, either in Darfur or in Iraq or in Liberia," he said.

The Bush administration has threatened to block any delay unless Sudan makes major strides in striking a peace deal with Darfurian rebels and improving conditions for civilians, and provides free access to peacekeepers and aid workers.

Moreno-Ocampo accused Bashir in July of orchestrating a massive campaign of violence against Darfur's ethnic Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, displacing more than 2.5 million civilians since 2003 and leaving as many as 450,000 dead from violence and disease. The court has indicted five other Sudanese nationals and three unidentified rebel commanders accused of killing 12 African peacekeepers during a 2007 raid on an A.U. base in Haskanita.

Moreno-Ocampo said a recent spate of violence and threats against displaced civilians, international aid workers and peacekeepers reveals Bashir's and his followers' "criminal intent -- and should not be rewarded with impunity." He also accused Sudanese officials of trying to cover up his crimes.

"He is trying to convince organizations and this council that you have to protect him," the prosecutor said. "The international community cannot be part of such a coverup."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company