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Court Advocates Hope Bashir Gets Message from Karadzic Arrest


Demonstrators continued to rally in the streets of Sudan’s capital Khartoum Tuesday against plans by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to arrest President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The pro-Bashir rallies contrast dramatically with crowds of Muslims in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, celebrating the arrest of ousted Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic after an 11-year manhunt.

Karadzic, who was indicted by the ICC for the 1995 killings of eight thousand men and boys, in what has become known as the Srebrenica Massacre, will be taken to the Hague tribunal to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the three-year Balkan conflict (1992-95). Matthew Heaphy is deputy convener of the American NGO (non-governmental) Coalition for the ICC, an independent group dedicated to backing the court’s operations and its pursuit of fairness and justice. He says that President Bashir may be able to draw some important lessons from the international resolve that finally brought Radovan Karadzic to justice.

“The case against President al-Bashir is certainly controversial. But if they are successful in obtaining an arrest warrant for him, the arrest of Karadzic makes it apparent that it will be possible to arrest President al-Bashir as well,” he notes.

As president of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990’s, the Serb leader, backed by the Milosevic government in Belgrade, prosecuted a religious and ethnic war against thousands of non-Serb civilians and carried out an ethnic cleansing that could not have been accomplished without official state support. Similarly, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir since 2003 has armed and bankrolled what has been called a genocidal war against a non-Arab ethnic minority living in villages in the western region of Africa’s largest country. The aerial bombardments and ride-by equestrian raids by government-supported janjaweed militia have killed between 100 and 200-thousand Darfur victims and displaced two and a half million others from their homes. Matthew Heaphy says the parallels go even further.

“They’re certainly two men who are accused of committing some of the worst crimes known to man. And I guess the lesson with Karadzic is that it really takes a lot of resolve from the international community to move forward with justice for this very worst crime. But the recent events in Khartoum, also highlight the challenges that were faced in the 1990’s, when Radovan Karadzic was first indicted. Both enjoy popular support from certain parts of their own governments and their own populations. And the political will of countries in the international community acting collectively will have to be strong in order to carry out the arrests. It’s hard to imagine right now President al-Bashir going into hiding. But on the other hand, arrest warrants can have the effect of destabilizing a government and perhaps resulting in a change which could drive a sitting president into hiding,” he pointed out.

In addition to Darfur, President Bashir has been managing a brutal, protracted war over oil resources on the regional border between northern and southern Sudan and is said to hold the key to fulfillment of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the north and the south, which remains to be finalized. Because of the leverage he may provide in settling those conflicts if and when he sees fit to do so, critics have suggested that Bashir may still have an opportunity to turn things around in his country and avoid prosecution. But ICC Coalition organizer Heaphy disagrees. He points out that the Court won its mandate to pursue charges against alleged Sudanese war criminals back in 2005 and that the power to discontinue tracking down the suspects rests with the UN Security Council.

“Any solution under which there was an agreement not to prosecute President al-Bashir would have to be done at a political level by the Security Council and not by the court’s judges unless, of course, there was a national prosecution for these crimes, which in that case, the ICC would defer to national prosecutions. But Sudan has shown no willingness to prosecute for these crimes. So especially since, as the prosecutor has alleged, it’s the entire state apparatus that’s involved in them. I certainly hope for the sake of the victims that peaceful settlements are reached, but I’m not sure if it would result in the charges being dropped by the ICC without political action by the Security Council,” he said.

Late Tuesday evening, in news reports from Cairo and Washington, Arab League officials disclosed that Sudan has agreed to prosecute Darfur war crimes suspects in Sudanese courts with UN, African Union, and Arab League observers able to follow the proceedings. In a move that appeared designed to deflect pressures by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to seek an arrest warrant against President Bashir, the Sudanese government is said to have told Arab League negotiators in Khartoum that the Sudanese government would conduct the investigations needed to bring suspected violators to trial. President Bashir is scheduled to travel to Darfur Wednesday in his first visit to the region since the ICC announced its plans last week to investigate the Sudanese leader for war crimes.

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