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ICC to Issue Arrest Warrant Against Sudan President Bashir For Darfur War Crimes

Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague are expected to issue arrest warrant today against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over his alleged war crimes in Darfur. The ICC judges are due to respond to a request by the court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo for an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of war crimes in the Darfur region of western Sudan. But the Sudanese president defiantly dismissed the charges at a rally in the capital, Khartoum, telling his supporters that the court should "eat" the arrest warrant. Some political analysts fear workers of international organizations in Sudan may be harmed if the ICC issues the arrest warrant. Meanwhile, former South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu is urging African leaders to back the arrest warrant against the Sudanese president. Sara Darehshori, senior counsel in Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. She tells reporter Peter Clottey that the arrest warrant will further erode that sense of impunity shared by dictators the world over.

"We think this would be an enormously significant event. If the warrant is issued, it will catapult President Bashir to the top of the world's most wanted list for suspected war criminals," Darehshori pointed out.

She said the ICC chief prosecutor's evidence against President Bashir over alleged war crimes could lead to today's indictment.

"He (Bashir) has been charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity with ten counts in total. And whether or not what charges are confirmed will depend on whether or not the prosecutor has presented enough evidence to show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Bashir is responsible for those particular crimes. So it's hard to say, because we don't have access to all the evidence that the prosecutor has presented, because some of it is presented secretly. But the judges will look at that evidence to decide whether or not there is a strong enough connection to bring charges against Bashir in the first instance," she said.

Darehshori said under international law, Khartoum is obliged to implement the ICC-issued arrest warrant against President Bashir.

"As for the execution of the warrant, who will execute it? Well, Sudan is the likely recipient of the warrant and they are obligated under Security Council resolution to cooperate with the court. And apart from that it depends on where the court sends the warrant. So if the court sends the arrest warrant to other states, they will have the option to arrest Bashir if he comes into their country. And if they are concerned about how that affects other international legal obligations about heads of state immunity, then they are entitled to bring those concerns to the court and the court will decide," Darehshori pointed out.

She said the world will know what the court's decision would be concerning which countries to send the arrest warrants.

"Basically, we have to see later today at the press conference what the court says about where they are going to send the arrest warrants," she said.

Darehshori said threats made by supporters of Sudan's president should not be taken for granted.

"I think that these threats are something that should be considered seriously. We've seen over the past few months with people who are perceived to be people who are supporting justice for victims in Darfur and people who are perceived to be supportive of the ICC have been detained. At least two people have been tortured severely. So I think that one of the things we need to look out for after this is the sort of response that the government has on the ground with respect to human rights workers and other people who they believe who they believe support justice," Darehshori noted.

She said Khartoum is expected to protect both local and international workers despite the outcome of today's likely arrest warrant against President Bashir.

"Whatever the outcome of the court's decision, Sudan is obligated to maintain security in the country. It is obligated to protect humanitarian workers and UN forces, and so that is an important thing to keep in mind," she said.

Tensions are reportedly high in Sudan as Khartoum awaits today's ICC decision. China, the African Union and the Arab League have warned the warrant could destabilize the region, worsen the Darfur conflict and threaten an already troubled peace deal between north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south. Some Western embassies have also warned their citizens of the potential for violent protests if Bashir is charged. Darehshori hailed Nobel Laureate Desmund Tutu's call for African leaders to support the warrant against Bashir over war crimes in Darfur.

"I'm hoping that people will look at Archbishop Desmund Tutu's statement, which was very important, because a lot of people have said African leaders, Arab leaders have tried to make the case that justice is somehow anti-African. And I appreciate having an African leader like Archbishop Tutu remind African leaders that the victims are in fact African and that Africa has done a lot of things to support justice, including voluntarily agreeing to be part of this institution, the International Criminal Court. They are big supporters of the court, and on the whole that is the largest region that has signed up for jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court," Darehshori pointed out.

The African Union recently called on the UN Security Council to suspend the arrest warrant against the Sudanese president contending that workers of international bodies could be in jeopardy. But Archbishop Tutu chastised the AU for calling for the suspension, arguing that an arrest warrant for Bashir would be an extraordinary moment for the people of Sudan.

Bashir's government is accused of playing a key planning role in the Darfur conflict, which has killed some 300,000 and displaced 2.5 million civilians over the past five years. If the warrant is granted and an arrest carried out, President Bashir would become the first sitting head of state to be hauled before the ICC since the court opened in 2002.

Supporters of President Bashir, including some government officials, have condemned hints confirming realization of the arrest warrant. The National Security and Intelligence Chief Salah Gosh recently said that anyone in Sudan who tries to execute the warrant will have "his hands, head and parts" cut off.