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Analyst Weighs Implications of Possible Bashir Arrest warrant

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a statement denying it has decided to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Thursday, The New York Times newspaper reported the decision had been made to prosecute Mr. Bashir, saying it based the story on statements from court attorneys and diplomats. However, the ICC statement said no decision had been made.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is seeking Mr. Bashir's arrest on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, stemming from the Sudanese government's actions in the Darfur region. Moreno-Ocampo made the request for a warrant last year.

What would the implications be if an arrest warrant were issued? Nick Grono, deputy president of the International Crisis Group, spoke from Brussels on what the immediate reaction might be.

"The Sudanese government will be outraged and will make it very clear that it's outraged…. The big question is whether beyond expressing outrage it will take any concrete steps or take any action to retaliate against those who it perceives as supporting the ICC or threatening the security of the government," he says.

As for other countries, Grono says, "The international community, which obviously isn't a cohesive group, will also have to work out how it responds.… Members of the ICC obviously have an obligation to support the ICC…. The Arab League and African Union…have expressed support for Sudan on this issue. So, you're going to have a whole range of reactions. I think policymakers should be thinking about how to shape reactions when this decision comes out because it's a very important step forward both in terms of the ICC and what's happening in Sudan."

It could be a difficult decision for some whether or not to support Sudan on this issue. Grono says, "These policy decisions don't get much more difficult because you have issues of justice…. You have issues of peace and stability. And countries have to weigh up how the decision, assuming there is a decision to issue an arrest warrant, impacts on all of those."

He expects some countries to say such a decision risks creating further instability and violence in Sudan. "You have to be a little bit careful about accepting those claims at face value because it's likely if there is any further violence the Sudanese government is in control of a lot of the actors that might be in a position to commit violence," he says.

However, Grono says the issuing of an arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader could spur the peace process. "It also provides opportunities to change the dynamics of conflict in Sudan…. It's been very difficult to find leverage to change the calculations of the political actors in Sudan. This may be something that provides significant leverage," he says.

Any ICC action could be a test for the new Obama administration, Grono says. "What happens once an arrest warrant is issued is that the UN Security Council has the power to put a prosecution on hold for 12 months. And in the past Sudan has called for this and the African Union has called for this. So, one of the decisions that the Obama administration may have to make fairly early on is whether or not it would agree as a member of the UN Security Council to defer a prosecution of President Bashir. I suspect that they won't agree any time soon to a deferral, partly because the Sudanese government hasn't really demonstrated any willingness to do anything to promote peace in recent months."

Grono says the Obama administration "won't be in a hurry to give a pass to the Sudanese regime."