The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, a historic action that marks the first time the tribunal has acted against a sitting head of state. The charges stem from a July 2008 request by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and include crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The warrant specifically did not include the charges of genocide requested by the Chief Prosecutor last July.
The Court noted: "He is suspected of being criminally responsible as an indirect [co]perpetrator for intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing, and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property."
In announcing the arrest warrant, an ICC spokesman noted that the fact that Mr. Bashir is a sitting president "does not exclude his criminal responsibility nor does it grant him immunity against prosecution before the International Criminal Court."
The Enough Project issued the following statement in response:
"The International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir provides an unprecedented opening, making Sudan’s prospects for peace riper than they have been in memory,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project. “How the Obama administration handles this immediate foreign policy challenge will have a major impact on the outcome. It is crucial for the new President’s team to clarify to Arab states, China and others that the U.S. policy objective is a just and durable peace for Sudan.”
John Norris, The Enough Project’s Executive Director, added, “This message should be heard loudly and clearly around the globe: If you kill, maim, and rape your own citizens, there will be a cost for your actions. I hope other tyrants and warlords around the globe are taking note. Slobodan Milosevic, Charles Taylor, and now, President Bashir were only willing to learn the hard way. There are now millions of activists around the United States that expect the Obama Administration to make both peace and justice a priority in Sudan.”
The issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudan’s sitting head of state for crimes against humanity offers the Obama administration a chance to catalyze multilateral efforts to bring about a solution to Sudan’s decades-long cycle of warfare. One of the crucial missing ingredients to conflict resolution efforts has been some form of accountability for the horrific crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated by the warring parties in Sudan, primarily the Khartoum regime.
President Obama should now take a number of key steps, including:
- Working with the U.N. Security Council to support targeted sanctions against those most responsible for violence in Sudan and imposing a comprehensive arms embargo against the Government of Sudan;
- Making UNAMID effective with a robust force on the ground in Darfur with a competent lead nation and a clear command-and-control structure;
- Working closely with interested parties with leverage in Sudan and the region, especially China, the United Kingdom, France, and key African countries, to coordinate efforts on peace efforts, the protection of civilians, and accountability;
- Countering continued violations by Sudan on the UN ban on offensive military flights in Darfur; and
- Appointing a senior Special Envoy to not only address the situation in Darfur, but Sudan’s multiple conflicts and their regional dimensions.