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African ICC Members Mull Withdrawal Over Bashir Indictment

African member states of the International Criminal Court are considering a mass withdrawal to protest the war crimes indictment against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. A pullout is unlikely, but many are demanding a one-year suspension of the indictment.

There was an air of frustration at African Union headquarters as 30 African ICC member states met to consider a response to the arrest warrants filed against one of the continent's most prominent leaders.

African heads of state condemned the indictment at their last summit and called for a one-year suspension as provided in Article 16 of the Rome Statute that created the court. The summit also ordered member states to consider a mass withdrawal unless African views are taken into account.

But the U.N. Security Council has shown little interest in invoking Article 16. And while many African leaders complain the court is being used to target their own statesmen, there is little support for the drastic step of a mass pullout.

In his opening speech to the gathering of member states, A.U. Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said the world body's inaction has damaged prospects for peace in Darfur.

"Article 16 of the Rome Statute is meant to give the U.N. Security Council the opportunity to give peace a chance," Lamamra said. "While the search for justice would not be affected by a 12-month deferral of judicial proceedings, the pursuit of peace can be deadly...if players, including a head of state, are denied even the fundamental presumption of innocence."

Lamamra blasted the ICC and its chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, saying they are ignoring 'legitimate concerns' raised by Africans about a double standard in pursuing cases against some leaders while ignoring others.

"Some member states have raised profound apprehension on the...conduct of the prosecutor and unreservedly attributed the indictment of the Sudanese president to a glaring practice of selective justice," he said.

Lamamra said security in Darfur remains 'extremely fragile', with millions of civilians living in 'precarious conditions'. But, he said, statistics compiled by the joint A.U./U.N. peacekeeping force (UNAMID) indicate a 'low-grade conflict' in the Sudanese region, not the mass killings suggested by prosecutors.

"It is estimated that, on a month-to-month basis, 130 to 150 people die from violence in Darfur. Approximately one-third of the fatalities are civilians," Lamamra said. "The picture of the situation as presented by the authority responsible for UNAMID is obviously much different from what the ICC prosecutor described last Friday before the U.N. Security Council as 'ongoing extermination of civilians.'"

Commissioner Lamamra suggested the African ICC member states take a moderate approach, again urging the U.N. Security Council to defer the indictments, while at the same time calling for Sudan to redouble efforts to end the ongoing human-rights violations in Darfur.

African diplomats say the group is likely to follow Lamamra's advice, rejecting calls by Libya as well as by ICC members Senegal, Djibouti and Comoros for a mass pullout from the court.

The issue is expected to come up again in early July, when Africa's heads of state hold their next summit in the Libyan town of Sirte, under the leadership of current A.U. Chairman Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.