By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – African member countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will not pull out of the body despite their opposition to its indictment of the Sudanese President, diplomatic sources said.
The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of war crimes carried out during almost six years of fighting in Sudan’s violent Darfur region, but he has refused to deal with the court.
Africa is the most heavily represented continent in the ICC with 30 member countries. They are meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss their opposition to Bashir’s indictment.
“They will reach a consensus and ask for the warrant against al-Bashir to be deferred for some time,” a diplomat told Reuters. “But an en masse withdrawal will not happen,” he added.
Diplomats told Reuters only Libya, Senegal, Djibouti and the Comoros had lobbied the two-day meeting that ends on Tuesday for all African member countries to leave the court.
An African Union (AU) heads of state meeting in February decided the continent’s ICC members should consider such a move.
The AU has said the warrant will compromise peace efforts in Darfur, and the 53- member organisation wants the indictment deferred for at least one year.
“The pursuit of peace can be deadly impacted upon if players including a head of state, are denied even the fundamental presumption of innocence,” said AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamara.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is chairing an AU panel charged with helping to bring peace to Darfur by making recommendations to the AU’s Peace and Security Council as an alternative to the ICC indictment.
International experts say 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in the remote western region since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
Lamamra described Darfur as a “low-grade conflict” and said that 130 to 150 people were killed in the region every month, one third of them civilians.
“The situation is obviously different from what the ICC prosecutor described last Friday before the U.N. Security Council as ‘ongoing extermination of civilians’,” he said.
Bashir has travelled to several countries that are not members of the ICC since the warrant was issued in March.
The leader of the oil-exporting nation has visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and Zimbabwe in trips that are seen by analysts as an attempt to shore up regional support and show defiance to the international court.