The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo
has asked for an arrest warrant for Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accusing him of masterminding genocide and war crimes in
Sudan's Darfur region. A three-judge panel is expected to take weeks
or months to decide whether a warrant of arrest can be issued. From
London, Tendai Maphosa has more.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made the announcement at a press conference at the International Criminal Court headquarters in The Hague.
"I just submitted an application requesting to the pre-trial chamber Number-three to issue an arrest warrant against Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes," he said.
But Moreno-Ocampo stressed he was not indicting President Bashir.
"I like to be very clear on this; I am requesting a decision to the judges, they can agree with my application, they can dismiss my application they can do something different, they can request more evidence," he said. "So, the judges have the power now to decide."
The prosecutor also said if indicted Mr. Bashir could face three counts of genocide, and charges of causing serious mental harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction. He added the president could also face five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, forcible transfer of the population, torture and rape.
Should the judges decide to issue a warrant for Mr. Bashir's arrest, he would become the first serving head of state to be indicted by the ICC.
Sudan does not recognize the ICC and has steadfastly refused to hand over two other suspects charged by the court, Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmad Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb.
The decision to pursue the case against President al-Bashir has been met with hostility by the Sudanese who say it will jeopardize peace talks between the government and Darfur rebels.
Khalid al Mubabrak, the Sudanese Embassy spokesman in London, dismissed the charges against his president as false. He underscored the fact the ICC has no jurisdiction over Sudan.
"Just like the United States of America we have not ratified the Statute of Rome, which created the ICC," said Mubarak. "Sudan has got its own judicial system it is quite efficient it has already looked into matters about Darfur, indicted some people, set some people free imprisoned some people."
Mubarak added the prosecutor's action could actually prolong the Darfur crisis as it might encourage Darfur rebels to step up their insurgency.
Attacks on government installations by Darfur rebels in 2003 set off the crisis. The Sudanese government allegedly responded by arming militias that forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict. More than two million are said to be displaced, the majority of them living in camps in Darfur.