NEW YORK // Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, has said Omar al Bashir could still avert prosecution for war crimes in Darfur - even though an international court has issued a warrant for the Sudanese president's arrest. The secretary general said if Mr al Bashir took the "necessary measures" to restore justice in Sudan he could convince key world powers to delay the case against him for one year.
Although International Criminal Court (ICC) judges ordered Mr al Bashir's arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity on March 4, a provision of the court's statute empowers the UN Security Council to defer prosecutions. "You cannot say that it is too late," Mr Ban told reporters in New York. "I would like to urge and appeal to the Sudanese government that there should be a reasonable and credible implementation of their judiciary and judicial procedures to meet the requirements of" the ICC.
Mr Ban was speaking at his monthly press conference two days after his first meeting with US president Barack Obama, during which the pair discussed strategies towards tackling Sudan. Although Mr Ban did not call on Sudan's courts to prosecute Mr al Bashir, he said they should take "very credible" measures to prosecute those responsible for crimes in Darfur. This could include action against two other Sudanese men, Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kushayb, who were indicted by the ICC in 2007 over allegations in Darfur but have never been tried.
The UN chief said it would then be up to the Security Council, which originally referred the Darfur case to the ICC, and the judges themselves to determine whether any domestic measures went far enough. The ICC prosecutor accuses Mr al Bashir of leading a counterinsurgency campaign against Darfur rebel groups that involved rapes, killings and other atrocities against civilians. Up to 300,000 ethnic Africans have been killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes since violence erupted in the arid, western region of Africa's largest country since 2003.
From its permanent home in The Hague, the ICC steps in to prosecute alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide if countries cannot or do not take action themselves. Mr Ban's comments come amid mounting pressure from global actors - notably the Arab League and the African Union - which have called for the prosecution to be deferred. Meanwhile, concerns are mounting over the fate of three western aid workers kidnapped from their compound in Darfur on Wednesday, in what some have said was a backlash against the ICC arrest warrant.
The kidnappers have apparently asked for a ransom, a government run news outlet said yesterday. It did not say how much money they had asked for. The three worked for Medécins Sans Frontières, which following the kidnapping said it would pull all of its staff out of Darfur. The kidnapping comes amid fears of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the arid region after Khartoum expelled 13 foreign aid organisations from operating there.
Mr al Bashir's government denied its decision to kick out relief workers was related to the arrest warrant. While food stockpiles are expected to sustain Darfur's 4.7 million aid-dependent citizens over coming weeks, the expulsion of foreign specialists is expected to spawn water shortages and disease outbreaks within days. firstname.lastname@example.org