x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hague court puts Sudan peace talks in jeopardy

Diplomats warn genocide charge against Sudanese president Omar al Bashir could undermine Darfur talks in Qatar.

The ICC says there is sufficient evidence for the Sudanese president Omar al Bashir to be charged with genocide crimes.
The ICC says there is sufficient evidence for the Sudanese president Omar al Bashir to be charged with genocide crimes.

LONDON // An unprecedented genocide charge against the Sudanese president Omar al Bashir could jeopardise Darfur peace talks currently being held in Qatar, diplomatic sources warned yesterday. The International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, announced on Monday that Mr al Bashir was to become the first sitting head of state to be charged with the most serious crime in international law.

But experts said that, apart from the fact there seemed little immediate prospect of bringing him to book, the new charge could derail current peace talks in Doha between the Sudanese government and the Darfur-based Liberty and Justice Movement. Mr al Bashir told a radio interviewer in Khartoum: "We condemn this in this strongest terms; it will only harden our resolve.This court's objective is to destroy chances for peace in Sudan. We're not going to be bothered by it."

The president was charged last year with war crimes and crimes against humanity over the seven-year-old Darfur conflict. ICC judges have now ruled he should be charged with genocide relating to Darfur's three main ethnic groups. "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.

David Crane, a professor of law at Syracuse University in New York and a former UN war crimes prosecutor, accepted that there was a risk to the Doha talks, but said there was an overriding need to give justice to the people of Darfur. "At this point in time, the politicians and diplomats will certainly be a bit concerned because it goes to the issue of peace versus justice," he told Voice of America yesterday.

"But, overall, at the end of the day, it has to be justice. We also have to account for all of the crimes that are taking place in Darfur. So, the genocide charge must stand. It is important for justice that all of the crimes that were committed in Darfur actually be charged so that the full truth can come out." The ICC, however, does not have any arrest powers and must rely either on Mr al Bashir's handing himself in or his being arrested in the unlikely event he visits a country that has signed up to ICC jurisdiction.

A senior diplomat in London, speaking on the grounds of anonymity, told The National: "The ICC has ratcheted up the pressure on Bashir considerably by charging him with genocide, which is the most emotive issue in international terms. "But he portrays himself as the victim of a western plot and that still has resonance in some parts of the world. He might react by throwing out international aid organisations, as he did when the war crimes charges were brought last year.

David Crane, a professor of law at Syracuse University in New York and a former UN war crimes prosecutor, accepted that there was a risk to the Doha talks, but said there was an overriding need to give justice to the people of Darfur. "At this point in time, the politicians and diplomats will certainly be a bit concerned because it goes to the issue of peace versus justice," he told Voice of America yesterday. "But, overall, at the end of the day, it has to be justice. We also have to account for all of the crimes that are taking place in Darfur. So, the genocide charge must stand. It is important for justice that all of the crimes that were committed in Darfur actually be charged so that the full truth can come out." The ICC, however, does not have any arrest powers and must rely either on Mr al Bashir's handing himself in or his being arrested in the unlikely event he visits a country that has signed up to ICC jurisdiction. A senior diplomat in London, told The National: "The ICC has ratcheted up the pressure on Bashir considerably by charging him with genocide, which is the most emotive issue in international terms. "But he portrays himself as the victim of a western plot and that still has resonance in some parts of the world. He might react by throwing out international aid organisations, as he did when the war crimes charges were brought last year. "And, of course, it could jeopardise any hopes of reaching a peace deal." As for arresting Mr al Bashir and bringing him to court, the source said, that would be unlikely. "He has restricted his travel to countries that have not signed up to the ICC since the original charges were brought, and the chances of his giving himself up are between nothing and zero. "The hope must be that the genocide charge will lead to further international isolation of Sudan which, in turn, leads to Bashir being deposed and the Sudanese themselves handing him over to the court." @Email:dsapsted@thenational.ae