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African Union Wants ICC Warrants Against Sudan’s President Suspended

The African Union (AU) is reportedly calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to suspend indictments against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is charged with masterminding a campaign of genocide in Darfur. The African Union says the charges would not only possibly destabilize the country, but would also endanger the lives of foreign aid workers there. The indictment makes President Bashir the first sitting head of state to be officially charged with crimes after he allegedly masterminded the genocide in Darfur. Sarah Darehshori is a senior counsel for the international justice program at human rights watch. She tells reporter Peter Clottey that The International Criminal Court is not in a position to suspend the warrant against President Bashir.

“First of all the ICC is not in a position to suspend the warrants. For one thing, the prosecutor has just requested the warrants. So it would likely be a couple of months the pretrial chamber determines whether or not there is enough evidence to request a warrant. But the chamber and the prosecutor act independently of political considerations and so it’s not for outsiders to interfere with the court to seek to influence the court proceedings,” Darehshori pointed out.

She said there are limited options by which the International Criminal Court could suspend any arrest warrant.

“The only means for the Rome statutes for proceedings to be suspended is through the Security Council, which we would not recommend. Or we hope the Security Council would not do anything to that effect, since it would send a very damaging message about its commitment to justice. And at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be an indication that something like that would happen. So the court really needs to proceed as it is now, independently in assessing the evidence, regardless of the position of the accused,” she said.

Darehshori said it would be difficult for anybody to envisage reactions from the Khartoum government.

“It’s hard to predict exactly how the government will respond to these warrants. But the fact that there is concern about a threat of retaliation is all the more reason why there is a need to end the culture of impunity that has contributed to these times of crimes,” Darehshori noted.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s government is not a party to the International Criminal Court and has sharply denied genocide in Darfur, saying it would ignore the announcement. However, it pledged to continue peace efforts and to protect UN staff in Darfur. It said, however, it would not cooperate with the International Criminal Court.

Darehshori said although Sudan is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, President Bashir could still be prosecuted, since it was the United Nations Security Council that made the recommendation for investigation of the alleged crimes in the country.

“The ICC has jurisdiction over this case, not because Sudan is a state party to the court, but because it was referred to it by the Security Council. This is the second message case by which the court can take up a case and on a usual way. But if the Security Council refers a case to the ICC and in the referral has called on Sudan to cooperate with the court and all other countries to cooperate with the proceedings, it has the same binding obligation on state parties as any other Security Council resolutions. So, it is obligated basically by the UN charter to cooperate with the Security Council resolution,” Darehshori said.

Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators reportedly rallied in President Bashir’s support in Khartoum against the ICC on Sunday, while aid organizations and the U.S. embassy have tightened security, fearing an upsurge in violence from an enraged Bashir might buoy up rebels in Darfur and escalate hostilities.