Home | News    Wednesday 4 February 2009

ICC judges appear close to ruling on Sudan president case

February 3, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — The judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber I at the International Criminal Court (ICC) met today with the prosecutor regarding his application requesting the issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.

Last week the judges issued a decision scheduling a closed hearing with prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court’s Registrar Silvana Arbia along with representatives from the Victims and Witnesses Unit (VWU).

The decision was in response to a notification filed by the prosecutor with the Pre-Trial Chamber I last week. The contents of the notification were not disclosed.

The judges have attached a confidential annex to their decision on the hearing containing the items that were to be discussed today.

The Pre-Trial Chamber I is currently reviewing the charges made against Al-Bashir that include three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder.

Ocampo have alleged in his application that Al-Bashir masterminded a campaign to get rid of the African tribes in Darfur; Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.

The ICC judges began reviewing the application in early October after which they requested supporting evidence and written answers to seven questions. The prosecutor submitted more than 700 pages in response to the judges’ query.

The significance of today’s meeting arises from the explicit request by the judges that the VWU be present. In their decision to convene a hearing the Pre-Trial Chamber made reference to Article 68 of the Rome Statute dealing with ‘Protection of the victims and witnesses’.

Before the issuance of an arrest warrant or a summons to appear, the judges are required to ascertain that all measures have been put in place to protect witnesses and victims in connection with the case. In making that determination the Pre-Trial Chamber consults with the prosecution and the VWU on any potential risks in that regard.

“The Court shall take appropriate measures to protect the safety, physical and psychological well-being, dignity and privacy of victims and witnesses… The Victims and Witnesses Unit may advise the Prosecutor and the Court on appropriate protective measures, security arrangements, counselling and assistance” the Statute reads.

Many observers have expressed fear of retaliatory measures by Khartoum if an arrest warrant is issued for Bashir. A recent upsurge of fighting between the government and rebels in South Darfur has been linked by some analysts to the awaited decision by the ICC judges.

Yesterday the African Union (AU) called for deferring the move of the ICC against Al-Bashir “to give a greater chance to the peace process”.

However in light of today’s hearing it now appears unlikely that Bashir will be able to escape the issuance of an arrest warrant on at least one of the ten counts contained in the prosecutor’s application.

Furthermore the Pre-Trial Chamber I made no acknowledgement of a filing made in mid-January by two pro-Sudan groups requesting that an arrest warrant not be issued.

The two groups consist of the Sudan Workers Trade Unions Federation (SWTUF) and the Sudan International Defense Group (SIDG).

Two UK lawyers prepared the filing on behalf of the SWTUF and SIDG, Sir Geoffrey Nice and Rodney Dixon.

Sudanese officials while denying link to the two groups, have expressed hope that the motion would slow down the decision of the judges.

Technically the Judges may have already issued a decision under seal to allow time for the prosecutor to notify the UN leadership for the latter to take the necessary measures to protect their staff in Sudan.

Two weeks before the ICC prosecutor presented his case against Al-Bashir, he informed the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon of his plans prompting heightened security measures by the UN missions throughout Sudan.

Yesterday the UN chief who was present at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa warned that Sudan must adhere to any decision made by the ICC.

“He should fully cooperate with the decision of the ICC” Ban told a press conference on the sidelines of the summit.

It remains unclear when a ruling will be made but several UN officials and diplomats speaking to Associated Press today have privately predicted that the court will agree to issue a warrant this month.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) issued resolution 1593 under chapter VII in March 2005 referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC following recommendation a UN commission of inquiry into abuses committed in the war ravaged region.