March 3, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — The international community and Sudan are waiting nervously for a hotly anticipated by the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges made by its prosecutor against Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.
The Hague-based court has announced that its Italian Registrar Silvana Arbia and the ICC spokesperson, Laurence Blairon will present the ruling during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at 1300 GMT (1600 Sudan local time).
The ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was also scheduled to make a statements afterwards.
On July 14th 2008 Ocampo filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder and accused Al-Bashir of masterminding a campaign to get rid of the African tribes in Darfur; Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.
The move triggered a hot debate within the international community as some have warned that indicting a serving head of state during civil conflict will only fuel more tension and jeopardize any prospects for peace.
Last minute efforts by the Arab League and African Union (AU) to push for a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution to halt the ICC proceedings against Bashir have failed to yield any results as Western veto wielding countries voiced strong opposition.
The French envoy at the United Nations (UN) Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters at the UN headquarters today that his government saw no need for a UNSC suspension under Article 16 of the ICC Statute.
The provision allows the council to suspend the ICC prosecutions in any case for a period of 12 months that can be renewed indefinitely.
“The French position is very clear and constant, there is no matter for using Article 16. There was no cooperation whatsoever between the authorities of Sudan with the ICC so there is no reason to raise the case” Ripert said.
Sudan has accused Western powers of using the ICC as a political tool to secure concessions in return for halting prosecutions. Countries including US, UK & France have suggested that only a “radical” change on the ground particularly in Darfur would warrant a suspension.
Khartoum has dispatched envoys all over the world to rally support but so far few countries have done more than express varying degrees of verbal solidarity.
Russia and China, Sudan’s heavyweight allies, have surprisingly appeared far less outspoken than other friends of Khartoum on the ICC row. Both UNSC permanent members have said that they will not table any Article 16 resolution.
On the other side many observers publicly and privately have criticized the ICC prosecutor’s strategy of targeting Bashir and particularly questioned the counts of genocide he incorporated in his case.
However Ocampo told a small group of reporters at the court’s headquarters in The Hague today that Bashir’s intention “was to exterminate three [African] ethnic groups and that is why it is genocide according to our view”.
“We have more than 30 different witnesses who will present how he managed and controlled everything” he told journalists.
But Bashir appeared dismissed the possible ICC warrant during a celebration of inaugurating a massive hydroelectric project.
“They will issue their decision tomorrow ... this coming decision, they can prepare right now: they can eat it (the warrant)” Bashir told a crowd of cheering supporters in northern Sudan on Tuesday.
Bashir’s supporters took pictures of Ocampo and strew them on the ground to be trampled on by the crowd.
“The Western world is targeting Sudan in order to stop... its development projects but we don’t absolutely care” Bashir said. “We will respond to all these decisions with new development projects”.
If the judges approve the arrest warrant which looks all but certain the challenge will be to process by which the Sudanese leader can be apprehended.
The UNSC resolution 1593 which referred the Darfur case to the ICC mandates cooperation by all warring parties which would include the government as well as the rebels. Other countries were simply urged to cooperate.
But 108 ICC members have a legal duty to arrest Bashir if present on their territories though there are signs that some African states would be unwilling to carry out such a task.
Yesterday Ocampo speaking to Al-Jazeera Arabic language television that Bashir will be nabbed as soon as he leaves Sudan.
“Once president Bashir leaves Sudanese territory he could be taken into custody” the ICC prosecutor said.
But even if the Sudanese president is not arrested it is likely that his contacts with other states will be degraded, at least publicly.
Sudan has warned that it will respond to any country that plans to degraded or severe contact with Bashir.
Last year it was reported that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has been advised by the Legal department in the world body to “distance himself politically” from the Sudanese president following the ICC indictment.
European Union (EU) officials are prohibited from conducting dialogue with individuals indicted by the ICC.
It is expected that Sudan will stage massive rallies in response to the ICC decision on Wednesday. Most opposition political parties have rallied behind Bashir and condemned the ICC for targeting the head of state.
Sudanese authorities have issued warning that will deal firmly with any individuals who sympathize or cooperate with the ICC.
The leader of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) Hassan Al-Turabi has been jailed for over a month days after calling on Bashir to surrender himself to the ICC.
Khartoum vowed to protect foreign missions and UN staff but warned that it may not be able to control reactions by outlaws. It remains to be seen whether violent reprisals will take place following an unfavorable ICC decision.
Furthermore many countries will be monitoring any negative developments with regards to implementation of the North-South peace agreement which some feared would unravel if Bashir was to be charged.
On the economic front Sudan says it is prepared for prospects of any sanctions by the UNSC because of the ICC case.
Last month the Sudanese Energy Minister Al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan told Reuters in an interview that investors are thinking twice about doing business in Sudan in light of the ICC move.
This week the Sudanese pound slid to its lowest levels against the dollar in four years for what appeared as a result of rush to safe haven by Sudanese citizens fearing reprecussions after ICC decision.
However Sudanese officials denied any such link.
UN experts estimate some 300,000 people have died and 2.5 million driven from their homes. Sudan blames the Western media for exaggerating the conflict and puts the death toll at 10,000.