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Sudan Rejects ICC Darfur Crimes Prosecution

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at The Hague Monday charged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with masterminding and implementing the genocide of the last five years against the people of Darfur. Welcoming reaction from human rights groups and condemnation by the Sudanese government have been swift. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The court's chief prosecutor presented the three-judge panel with evidence charging President Bashir with responsibility in relation to 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and asked the court to issue an arrest warrant.

It could be months before the judges rule. But in the meantime, those in the human rights community say the charges are a big step forward in assigning responsibility for the crimes that have led to the deaths of some 300,000 people and the displacement of more than two million others.

Richard Dicker is the director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch in New York.

"My reaction is, it is a very big step, a very important step, in ending the impunity for the horrific crimes that have occurred in Darfur since 2003," said Richard Dicker. "I think requesting a warrant for the head of state - the president of Sudan - sends the message that no one is above or beyond the law for crimes that have occurred there."

Niemat Ahmadi is an activist with the Save Darfur Coalition in the United States. She fled Darfur in 2005 after two assassination attempts. Ahmadi welcomed the ICC's announcement saying it sends a message of hope to the people of Darfur.

"I think it is a very important step for the people of Darfur, that they feel for the first time that there is hope; there is a serious step toward ending their suffering," said Niemat Ahmadi.

In 2005, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution [1593] referring the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and ordering the Sudanese government to cooperate with the court.

Khartoum has refused to comply with the prosecutor's earlier request that it hand over two other suspects, and Sudan's U.N. envoy, Abdalhmahmood Mohamad, said Monday that position has not changed, calling the charges "politically motivated."

"We don't recognize the authority of the ICC," said Abdalhmahmood Mohamad. "We will never cooperate with the ICC. We will never hand over to the ICC suspects, let alone the president, which is a symbol of our dignity and our authority. This is why we consider this move as an affront and insult to the dignity of the entire Sudanese nation."

Ambassador Mohamad said his government has already started consulting with U.N. Security Council members about suspending the charges for one year - a power the council has under the treaty that created the ICC.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is in Paris, issued a statement saying the United Nations would continue its peacekeeping operations in Sudan, where it has more than 40,000 peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and staff.

Some observers have raised concerns that the charges could lead to retaliatory acts against U.N. personnel, particularly after an attack last week on U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur that killed seven. Mr. Ban said he expects Khartoum to fulfill its obligation to ensure the safety and security of all U.N. personnel and property.

Khaled Mansour, the spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Sudan, told VOA Monday that some precautionary measures have been taken in Darfur and throughout the rest of Sudan that could entail the relocation of non-essential staff, but that none had been relocated yet. He said the U.N. would continue to deal with President Bashir as normal.

"We will deal, and we always deal with government officials, as long as it is critical for our functions and programs in that country," said Khaled Mansour. "Let us make one thing clear. What we have here is an application for an indictment and all people should be innocent until proven guilty."

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch says Sudan has an obligation to facilitate peacekeeping and the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and Monday's charges should not in any way affect that responsibility. He added that any retaliatory violence could result in new criminal charges.