ICC issues arrest warrant for al-Bashir 04 Mar 2009
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir.

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

On 4 March 2009, three judges in Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. President al-Bashir becomes the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC chief prosecutor, presented evidence to the ICC in July 2008, charging Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir with ten counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for acts perpetrated in Darfur from March 2003. After around eight months of consideration, the ICC Pre-trial Chamber has determined that there is sufficient evidence for an arrest warrant to be issued against the Sudanese President. However, the three-judge panel did not grant the accusation of genocide, indicating that there was insufficient evidence of the “specific intent” required under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

No immunity

According to the Pre-trial Chamber, Omar Al Bashir’s official capacity as a sitting Head of State “does not exclude his criminal responsibility, nor does it grant him immunity against prosecution” before the ICC. Additionally, the Judges stressed that if additional evidence was gathered by the Prosecution, it would still have the possibility to request an amendment to the warrant of arrest in order to include the crime of genocide.

It is alleged that Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy “in whole or in part” the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur. The prosecution further asserts that Sudanese armed forces acted alongside Janjaweed militias under the orders of Omar al-Bashir in the systematic razing of villages, the killing and rape of civilians and the subjection of conditions designed to bring about their destruction. The Chamber found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that this was a common plan agreed upon at the highest levels of the Government of Sudan, within which President al-Bashir exercised full control of all state apparatus.

The three-judge panel has indicted President al-Bashir as an indirect co-perpetrator or as an indirect perpetrator in the alternative, for five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, rape) and two counts of war crimes (direct attacks on civilians and pillaging).

Darfur

The decision to grant an arrest warrant for Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir follows months of political and academic debate as to whether the prosecutor should have brought a case against the President, a sitting head of state. Opponents argue that an indictment against al-Bashir would spark further violence in Darfur and jeopardise the peace process in Sudan, especially given the crucial months ahead for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 ending Sudan’s 20-year civil war in the country’s south.

In addition to Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, the ICC had already issued two other warrants of arrest in connection with the Darfur conflict. Current Sudanese Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Ahmad Muhammad Harun and former Janjaweed leader, Ali Muhammad Al Abd-Al-Rahman (“Ali Kushayb”), are both sought by the Court following warrants issued on 27 April 2007. The government of Sudan has refused to carry out the warrant of arrest of Harun. Reports from Sudan in 2008 suggested that Ali Kushayb had been detained – an act criticized as an attempt by al-Bashir to stave off the ICC’s case against him.

Prior to President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, Slobodan Milošević and former Liberian President, Charles Taylor were the only two sitting heads of state to have been indicted for war crimes while still in office.

Press release

Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir

International Criminal Court

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