x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Opposition mounts to Bashir warrant

Sudan, the African Union, Arab League and China all voice opposition to the ICC warrant for Omar al Bashir.

A crowd supporting Sudan's president Omar al Bashir chants slogan during a protest in Khartoum, on March 5 2009.
A crowd supporting Sudan's president Omar al Bashir chants slogan during a protest in Khartoum, on March 5 2009.

NAIROBI // Opposition to the international arrest warrant issued for Omar al Bashir, the president of Sudan, mounted yesterday as he claimed to have been unfairly targeted by western powers. Mr Bashir's defiant reaction to the International Criminal Court's decision, which seeks his arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity, coincided with further calls from Arab, African and Chinese leaders for suspension of the indictment. Major protests in the president's support were staged in Khartoum, where the authorities responded to the ICC warrant by expelling 10 foreign relief agencies. The UN Security Council has the power to suspend ICC proceedings for one year, a move urged yesterday by the Arab League, African Union and China. But there seems little chance of the US and other western members of the Security Council agreeing to suspend the case. As well as threatening to split the world community, the issue has provoked security and humanitarian concerns in the country. Mr Bashir made clear his own uncompromising position yesterday. "We are telling the colonialists we are not succumbing," he said. "We are not submitting. We will not kneel. We are targeted because we refuse to submit." The president is accused of five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his alleged role in the Darfur conflict in western Sudan. The UN alleges that 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict that has pitted African tribes against the Arab-led government and its allied Arab militias since 2003. Khartoum says 10,000 have died. Sudan has vowed not to hand over Mr Bashir and two other war crimes suspects. He would almost certainly not be arrested if he travelled to Arab League and African Union nations opposed to the indictment, and he says he will attend an Arab League summit in Doha this month. The African Union, which held an emergency meeting yesterday over the arrest warrant, said it would send a delegation to the UN to try to halt the process. The AU Commission chief, Jean Ping, said he was "deeply concerned at the far-reaching consequences of this decision, which comes at a critical juncture in the process to promote lasting peace ? in the Sudan". China, a major trading partner with Sudan and permanent Security Council member, said the indictment would hinder the fragile peace process in Darfur. "China expresses regret and worry about the International Criminal Court's issuing of an arrest warrant against the Sudanese president," Qin Gang, China's foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement. "China opposes any actions that may interfere in the peace situation in Darfur." The UAE also voiced its concern over the negative consequences of the ICC warrant on the stability of Sudan. "The UAE is also worried about the ongoing political dialogue and efforts to reinvigorate the political process in Darfur in regards to the implementation of the peace agreement in Sudan," a UAE Foreign Ministry source said, the state news agency WAM reported. The immediate prospects of achieving international consensus seem bleak. Fouad Hikmat, Horn of Africa director at International Crisis Group, a conflict watchdog, said Sudan's best chance of earning sympathy in the international community was to co-operate with the court and work towards peace in Darfur. "The indictment is out and it is a reality," he said. "They cannot cancel it. They can only suspend it for one year. The ball is on the Sudanese side. We will see the way they respond and react." World leaders have mostly enjoyed impunity from justice. Mr Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by The Hague-based ICC, and the third world leader charged with war crimes. Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslavian president, and Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, both faced war crimes charges in special courts after they left office. Analysts said the court's ruling could pave the way for other world leaders to face justice. "It will send a signal around the world that those responsible for crimes are not immune to international justice," said Mr Hikmat. "It will set a precedent if it achieves its goals, if it stops crimes being committed in Darfur." Though the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court, is not political, some see the indictment as a political move providing little guarantee that Mr Bashir will actually face justice. Sudan's expulsion of aid agencies has drawn criticism from the international community. The aid groups included Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee. The organisations received letters to cease operations in Darfur, though no reason was given, according to aid workers. Majok Guandong, Sudan's ambassador to Kenya, accused some of the aid organisations of spying for Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor. "Mr Ocampo has been getting false information from some of the organisations who were working on the ground," Mr Guandong told reporters in Nairobi. The Sudanese government has seized some organisations' equipment including computers and has frozen their bank accounts, aid workers said. "It is absurd that we as an independent organisation are caught up in a political and judicial process," said Arjan Hehenkamp, the operational director of Doctors Without Borders Holland. All of the expelled aid organisations are apolitical and have no link to the UN or the ICC. Joanne Offer, a spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee, said the aid organisations had been preparing for a reaction from Khartoum, but added: "The extent of this has taken everyone by surprise." Mr Hikmat said the indictment was a mixed blessing for Darfur's internally displaced people, or IDPs, who lived in cramped, squalid camps in Sudan's dusty western region. "On the one hand, this helps the IDPs because the international community is recognising why they are there and trying to bring justice," he said. "On the other hand, it hinders their day to day livelihood. Sudan might see the IDPs as a symbol of why the ICC is pursuing Sudan and they might be attacked." There have been no reported attacks on camps in Darfur. The 15,000 peacekeepers with the joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur have been on high alert. mbrown@thenational.ae