THE HAGUE, Netherlands // The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) filed genocide charges today against the Sudanese president Omar al Bashir, accusing him of masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur with a campaign of murder, rape and deportation. Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked a three-judge panel at the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir to prevent the slow deaths of some 2.5 million people forced from their homes in Darfur and still under attack from the government-backed janjaweed militia. "Genocide is a crime of intention - we don't need to wait until these 2.5 million die," he said.
Mr Moreno-Ocampo was undeterred by concern that his indictment against Mr Bashir might ignite a storm of vengeance against Darfur refugees and lead to the closing of Sudan's doors to relief agencies and possibly peacekeeping troops. "The genocide is ongoing," he added, saying systematic rape was a key element of the campaign. "Seventy-year-old women, six-year-old girls are raped," he said. "Massive rapes, gang rapes, rapes in front of the parents."
Mr Moreno-Ocampo filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order Al-Bashir's arrest. Despite Mr Moreno-Ocampo's bold move, Mr Bashir is unlikely to be sent to The Hague any time soon. Sudan rejects the court's jurisdiction and refuses to arrest suspects. The filing marked the first time prosecutors at the world's first permanent, global war crimes court have issued charges against a sitting head of state.
Mr Moreno-Ocampo's decision to go after Mr Bashir is expected to cause further turmoil in Sudan and some analysts fear it could make life even worse for refugees living in Darfur's sprawling camps and reliant on humanitarian aid for food and water. Mr Moreno-Ocampo said most members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic African groups were driven from their homes by Sudanese forces and the janjaweed in 2004. Since then, the janjaweed have been targeting the camps aiming to starve the refugees.
"These 2.5 million people are in camps. They [Al-Bashir's forces] don't need gas chambers because the desert will kill them," Mr Moreno-Ocampo said, drawing comparison's with Nazi Germany's most notorious method of mass murder during the Holocaust. The refugees "have no more water, no more food, no more cattle. They have lost everything. They live because international humanitarian organisations are providing food for them," he added. An estimated 300,000 people have died in Darfur since conflict erupted there in 2003 when local tribes took up arms against Mr Bashir's government in the capital, Khartoum, accusing authorities of years of neglect. Mr Moreno-Ocampo said the international community needs to act to prevent more deaths. "We are dealing with a genocide. Is it easy to stop? No. Do we need to stop? Yes. Do we have to stop? Yes," he said. "The international community failed in the past, failed to stop Rwanda genocide, failed to stop Balkans crimes," he added. "So this time the new thing is there is a court, an independent court ... who is saying, 'this is a genocide.'" *AP