Sudanese women attending an international forum on Darfur are expressing concerns that conditions in the war-ravaged region could worsen if the International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
This gathering of women from across Africa is an expression of solidarity with their sisters caught in the western Sudanese region where millions have fled their homes to escape what many in the international community call genocide. It is being chaired by former Irish president and U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson.
But hanging over the proceedings is the likelihood that the International Criminal Court will issue arrest warrants this month charging Sudanese President al-Bashir with responsibility for the slaughter in Darfur.
When the subject was raised at a news conference, reactions were mixed.
A government health-care worker in western Darfur, Muna al-Sharif Tazora, said even people who blame President Bashir for the region's troubles are worried the arrest warrants could result in a weakening of what little protection they receive from the still incomplete U.N. peacekeeping force known as UNAMID.
"We see even UNAMID is starting to reduce their people on the ground, so if UNAMID is not able to be on the ground, for us as civilians how to cope with the situation," Tazora said. "So it is a complicated issue. Nobody is able to predict what will happen, like it is boiling under, so ... we are just worried and wait to see what happens tomorrow."
Forum chairwoman Robinson tried to calm fears of negative fallout from an indictment. She says women attending the conference have pledged to remain united, regardless of the ICC decision.
"It is not for women to decide what the ICC may do, not for us to decide, but members of the steering committee made it clear that no matter what the fallout, if there is a fallout, that they will stay together," Robinson said. "Women cope with situations on the ground. And this may be a situation women will have to cope with."
Other Sudanese participants in the forum were blunt in their criticism of the ICC process. Pro-Bashir member of Sudan's parliament Attiat Mustafa told reporters she has evidence some of the ICC allegations are false. She warns any attempt to prosecute President Bashir will destroy the process for a negotiated settlement in Darfur.
"The ICC, if it comes out with a warrant, it will create disconsensus and disturb the whole process, not only the women's forum process," Mustafa said. "We are here looking to support women and take them to the negotiating table. There will be no negotiation table anymore. This is a process. We are telling you the truth."
Mary Robinson noted the forum is taking no position on the issue of possible criminal indictments against President Bashir. She expressed hope that regardless of the international court's decision, the next forum would be held in Darfur.
She said, 'We want this process to continue, even if there is a difficult period, as there might be in the near future".