By Colum Lynch and Rebecca Hamilton
Tuesday, July 13, 2010; A07
The International Criminal Court's judges on Monday charged Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with orchestrating a bloody campaign of genocide against Darfur's three main ethnic groups, the first time the Hague-based court has accused a sitting head of state of committing the most egregious international crime.
The three-judge pretrial chamber issued a formal arrest warrant for Bashir -- the second time it has done so -- on three counts of genocide. They include the crime of targeted mass killing, the causing of serious bodily or mental harm to members of a target group, and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group's physical destruction. "There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. al-Bashir acted with specific intent to destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups," the judges concluded.
The decision provided a degree of vindication to the United States, which has stood largely alone in characterizing the killing in Darfur as genocide. It also gave a boost to the court's Argentine prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, whose pursuit of the Sudanese leader has generated intense opposition from other African and Arab leaders. Moreno-Ocampo suffered a setback this month when his case against another alleged war criminal, the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, was suspended for a second time.
Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, dismissed Monday's ruling as a politically motivated effort to undercut prospects for peace in Sudan and vowed never to surrender Bashir. "We condemn this in this strongest terms; it will only harden our resolve," he said in an interview. "This court's objective is to destroy chances for peace in Sudan; we're not going to be bothered by it."
Moreno-Ocampo said he welcomed the decision, which essentially reverses a previous ruling by the pretrial chamber to reject the genocide charges. He said the new ruling honors the victims of the mass killing in Darfur, a vast region in western Sudan. It may impose new obligations on states that have signed the Genocide Convention, including the United States, to cooperate with the court in its effort to arrest Bashir, Moreno-Ocampo added.
The court issued a previous arrest warrant against Bashir in March 2009, on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sudan, which has never ratified the treaty establishing the criminal court, has refused to surrender Bashir, who was reelected this year in a U.N.-backed election to a five-year term.
The violence in Darfur began in early 2003 when two rebel groups took up arms against Sudan's Islamic government, citing a legacy of bias against Darfur's ethnic tribes. In response, Khartoum organized local Arab militias, the Janjaweed, to help crush the resistance and its followers. The United Nations estimates that as many as 300,000 civilians died as a result of violence or hardships brought on by the forced displacement of nearly 2 million Darfurians.