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Human Rights Activist Welcomes Possible Indictments of Sudan's President and Others

The International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, is expected to indict President Omar al-Bashir and other top Sudanese officials as soon as Monday for war crimes committed in Sudan’s Darfur region over the last five years. But Sudan has said an ICC indictments against its top officials could undermine attempts to end the Darfur conflict.

The African Union says the search for justice should be pursued in a way that does not jeopardize peace efforts in the region. President al-Bashir held an emergency Cabinet meeting Sunday to discuss the situation.

Richard Dicker is director of the International Justice Program for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. He told VOA that if the prosecutor does request an indictment of President al-Bashir today, it would mark a significant step to ending impunity for the horrific crimes that have occurred in Darfur.

“I think it sends a message that no one is above the law or beyond the reach of law for the mass slaughter of civilians in and the use of rape as a weapon and forced enslavement in Darfur,” he said.

Sudan has said an ICC indictments against its top officials could undermine attempts to end the Darfur conflict. But Dicker said Sudan has used such this threat in the past.

“The Sudanese, long before the president was charged with crimes, had been saying that an investigation and charges against the Janjaweed leader and the minister for humanitarian affairs would be disrupted. So I don’t put any stock in what the Sudanese say because they have tried to deflect criminal charges by using the peace talks as a shield,” Dicker said.

On the other hand, Dicker said he would not dismiss the concerns of those who believe that any indictments would impact the peace process or attacks on the civilians or UN and African Union peacekeepers because of the track record of the Sudanese government since 2003 in attacking innocent civilians.

He hoped the Sudanese authorities would understand their international obligation by not attacking civilians and UN peacekeepers or interfere with humanitarian assistance.

Dicker said the ICC is not exclusively targeting alleged African war criminals as some have suggested.

“I was there in June of 2001 when the former Serbia President Slobodan Milosevic was transferred for trial before another international tribunal. I also remember when the former president of Chile, Augusto Pinochet was taken into custody in London in 1998 by British authorities for an arrest warrant issued by the government of Spain. Unfortunately Africa has been a scene of concentration of these kinds of crimes to the point where three African governments have asked the prosecutor to investigate,” he said.

Dicker said the ICC prosecutor is also looking at crimes in Afghanistan and Colombia, South Africa.

He said even though the people of Darfur are starving, their suffering cannot be compared to the human rights violations that are being committed by the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed allies.