Sudan Leader To Be Charged With Genocide

Richard Dicker
Director, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch
Friday, July 11, 2008; 1:00 PM

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will seek an arrest warrant Monday for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity in the orchestration of a campaign of violence that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the nation's Darfur region during the past five years, according to U.N. officials and diplomats.

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, was online Friday, July 11, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the consequences of such a decision.

A transcript follows.


Richard Dicker: Certainly there are reports, we don't have confirmation and won't until the prosecutor on Monday submits his evidence and request to the judges, but assuming he does request an arrest warrant against the president of Sudan for alleged crimes in Darfur, it would be a major step in limiting the impunity associated with horrific crimes against civilians in Darfur since 2003. And it will send the message beyond Sudan that there is less and less immunity for the most serious crime under law, regardless of position.


Washington, D.C.: Is HRW's support of the Bashir indictment a belief that the political process is doomed anyway? Surely what little prospects were there are gone now.

Richard Dicker: No. Human Rights Watch's support for a possible request for an arrest warrant against President Bashir and others is not based on a belief that the political processes are dead. We believe the North-South peace process must continue, that there must be movement for free and fair elections in Sudan and the all but dead Darfur peace processes must be restarted. The request for an arrest warrant should have no effect on any of those processes.


Washington, D.C.: Andrew Natsios, Alex De Waal and Julie Flint, three Darfur experts whose commitment to human rights cannot be questioned, have expressed grave concerns over the consequences this indictment will have on UNAMID, humanitarian assistance, and most problematically, the peace process. Are you saying their fears are unfounded?

Richard Dicker: Absolutely not. I respect the expertise of all three of those individuals. Given the track record of the Sudanese government over the last five years it would be shortsighted to reject out of hand the possibility of backlash. However, it would be equally foolish to insist on those consequences a priori and to oppose accountability for those most responsible. The Sudanese government and individual officials have legal obligations not to attack peacekeepers or humanitarian aid workers. And if such attacks occur, need to be held to account for what are crimes under law.

Bottom line, let's not rush to conclusions before those events unfold and use projected events to oppose accountability.


Washington, D.C.: Human Rights Watch has never explicitly referred to the 2003-2004 killings in Darfur as genocide. What is your position on the ICC referring to it as such?

Richard Dicker: Our fact-finding on the ground did not give us evidence that the killings and forced displacement were genocide. However, our findings were not closing the door on the crime of genocide and it's within the mandate of the prosecutor to make his own determination based on where the evidence he has leads. It's up to the judges to determine whether his evidence satisfies the necessary standards to issue an arrest warrant on the crime of genocide.


Chicago lll.: I despise myself for thinking this, but perhaps it's time for the international community to leave places like Darfur (and much of Africa) alone. We seem to do more harm than good, by propping things up just enough to prolong everyone's misery even further, and we don't have the resources to do everything anyway, so some will always die. Maybe it's time to let Africa mature on its own. Europe and Japan are vastly more peaceful places today because of WWII. America needed to fight the Civil War. The level of intervention we provide doesn't solve any of these current problems, it just artificially lengthens them. Thanks.

Richard Dicker: I acknowledge the ongoing litany of horrible experiences the writer flags but I think we don't want "the perfect to become the enemy of the good." And there is experience to show that where criminal charges have brought some good. I'm thinking of Liberia and its former president, Charles Taylor.


Fairfax, Va.: What is the international opinion of whether Bashir should be arrested? What repercussions would there be?

Richard Dicker: I think it's too early to say yet what the international reactions are; however, a request for an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state is likely to stir heated debate. I think it's imperative for the international community to understand that this is a prosecutor of an independent court and it must respect that independence. The prosecutor is mandated to investigate and bring charges regardless of political implications or consequences and the international community -- individual governments as well as the U.N. -- need to respect that independence.

Let's remember that it was the Security Council on March 31, 2005, that asked the prosecutor to investigate crimes in Darfur without any limitation on who or what charges he could bring.

There is a danger, of course, of backlash and the international community will have to respond forcefully if the brining of charges leads to attacks on civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers.


Washington, D..C: What's the benefit of handing down this indictment now? How does this benefit the efforts of the international community that has been working to put pressure on the Bashir government through other channels?

Richard Dicker: First, those efforts to bring pressure on the Bashir government through other channels need to continue. But in reality, all of those efforts have not yielded much positive result for the people at risk in Darfur. I hope a request for an arrest warrant against senior Sudanese officials will limit the more lawless impulses and actors in Khartoom by stigmatizing those most responsible as accused war criminals.


Washington, D.C.: It's my understand that Charles Taylor and Milosevic were not "sitting" leaders when they were indicted. How will this impact Bashir's current position and participation in African or global events?

Richard Dicker: With all respect, in May, 1999, Slobodan Milosevic was the president of Serbia and in July, 2003, Charles Taylor was the president of Liberia. Those are the facts. Those accused heads of state had to deal with the diplomatic fallout. I should add the indictments, I believe, hastened their departure from power, which was a good thing.

We'll have to see how criminal charges against President Bashir will affect his reception in diplomatic circles but I hope such charges would isolate him politically in the African Union as well as in the Arab League. Certainly he will campaign in both the Arab League and the African Union to build support for himself. And we shall see how this all unfolds.


Silver Spring, Md.: What's the real impact of this for Bashir or other top Sudanese officials? How will it impact them in real terms?

Richard Dicker: Again, we have to await what the prosecutor actually does on Monday, but the consequences of an arrest warrant against the President of Sudan have yet to be seen. Ultimately he will need to be arrested and surrender for trail as Slobodan was to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal or as Charles Taylor was for the special court of Sierra Leone. In the interim, the political isolation that President Bashir remains to be seen.


Washington, D.C.: If Bashir is arrested and taken into custody, who runs the government?

Richard Dicker: Well that would be determined by the internal procedures of Sudan -- not by the international community. If the president of the U.S., for example, was unable to continue to carry out his function, then the vice president would assume office to be followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to be followed by the president pro-tem of the Senate, so who would come into power next should be determined by an internal constitutional or legislative procedure -- not an internal power struggle.


Richard Dicker: Thank you for your questions. This is an important issue with far-reaching implications that go beyond Sudan. This is a milestone in extending the rule of law to the most serious crimes alleged to have been committed by the most senior official a government. It will be important to follow the results.


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