Upping the Ante in Darfur: ICC Prosecutor Warns of Reprisals

 

A couple of weeks ago, we reported that Omar al-Bashir had announced a unilateral ceasefire in an attempt to avoid being formally charged by the International Criminal Court. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had asked that al-Bashir be charged personally with multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. We saw the ceasefire as an attempt to appease Britain and France in the hope that they would approve an Article 16 deferral of his prosecution.

We also pointed out that, if all else fails, al-Bashir could also just terminate the humanitarian aid to Darfur, kick out the U.N. / African Union peacekeepers, and blame the resulting death and suffering on the West.

But today, ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo warned the Security Council that al-Bashir is already preparing to go the violent route. Moreno-Ocampo stated that al-Bashir has made direct threats of reprisals against peacekeepers and civilians. He added that “such threats should be seen for what they are: a confirmation of criminal intentions.”

We had also suggested that al-Bashir might think of throwing his (Orwellian-titled) Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to the wolves. But Moreno-Ocampo stated that al-Bashir is instead protecting that minister from the dozens of war crimes charges pending against him. “The impunity afforded to [the minister] is a direct message to all perpetrators of crimes in Darfur,” he said. “That message is, ‘the president will protect those who are following his orders.’”

Because al-Bashir appears to be readying more violence, Moreno-Ocampo warned the Security Council to be prepared to take action in carrying out any arrest warrant.

The Security Council, however, now appears less and less likely to do so. Although the Council had unanimously referred the matter to the ICC in the first place, now that push is coming to shove certain Council members are backing off. China, Russia and Libya, as we pointed out, have close ties to al-Bashir’s regime, and are unlikely to support a confrontation. The African Union and the Arab League have now also asked the Council to defer the investigation of al-Bashir, on the curious grounds that it’s not helpful to the peace process.

There are some small voices pushing for Security Council action, however. Costa Rica’s U.N. Ambassador, Jorge Urbina, stated that although there is disagreement among the Council members as to whether to approve an Article 16 deferral, “we regret very much the pressure that has been put on the Council to defer the case from the court. We believe that this pressure should [instead] be put on the government of Sudan to comply with the decision of the court.” Human rights groups are also pushing for a unanimous message from the Council that the Sudan regime must comply with the ICC and that it will not permit retaliatory violence.

By all appearances, then, it looks as though al-Bashir is going to get the deferral he sought. The combination of his ceasefire, his allies on the Council, and the fear of reprisal might just be enough to do the trick. The world now looks to the ICC to see whether it will actually issue the arrest warrant that will force everyone’s hand.

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