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Judicial noose tightens around al-Bashir

By Martin Plaut, Africa editor, BBC News

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (File pic, 2008)

Mr Bashir served in the army and rose to power in the 1990s

The unprecedented decision by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to seek charges against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity has thrown a sharp light on his part in the conflict in Darfur.

Some 250,000 people have died and two million fled their homes since 2003.

But Mr Bashir has always accused the international community of exaggerating the scale of the crisis.

Speaking in 2004, he said the Darfur issue was a “traditional conflict over resources… coated with claims of marginalisation”.

“Strangely the Darfur crisis, according to them [the UN], has become the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. The report about the crisis occupies the best part of the influential media by those who have a hidden agenda,” he added.


However, organisations like Human Rights Watch have documented atrocities in the western Sudanese region.

[African Union] troops… are completely capable of playing their role without international intervention
Omar al-Bashir, 2006

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch described the Sudanese government as pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing said to be “strategic and well-planned”.

“Khartoum has relied on the civilian administration, the Sudanese military and Janjaweed militias to implement a counter-insurgency policy that deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in violation of international law,” it said.

And these allegations were renewed earlier in 2008, when the government was accused of aerial bombardment and ground attacks that drove thousands from their homes.

Human rights organisations accuse President Bashir of overseeing these atrocities – allegations that have now resulted in the current indictment.

Noose tightening

Mr Bashir is first and foremost an army man.

After joining the Sudanese armed forces in 1960, he served with the Egyptian army during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

In June 1989, he led a group of officers who overthrew the government of Sadiq al-Mahdi, appearing on TV to say that the coup was designed to save Sudan from rotten politicians.

UN/AU peacekeeper in Darfur

The joint UN/AU peacekeeping mission to Darfur was much-delayed

As chairman of a Revolutionary Command Council, he led the country, making links with radical Islamists, including Hassan al-Turabi.

The relationship did not last, though, and Mr Turabi was purged and jailed.

Critics of President Bashir say that he has ruled Sudan in the interests of those northern Sudanese who live along the River Nile.

Anyone from the south of the country, or from a peripheral area like Darfur, has had little say in the running of the country.

The uprising in Darfur has been ruthlessly repressed. And suggestions that the United Nations might send international forces to the region were strongly resisted.

Instead, Mr Bashir has insisted that only African forces be deployed to try to Darfur.

“The AU [African Union] troops, after their experience and real practice in resolving conflict in Africa, are completely capable of playing their role without international intervention,” he said in 2006.

“We renew our call to the international community, as well as our Arab and African brothers, to provide the necessary financial support to these troops and to increase the participation of Arab and African troops in the mission by the required numbers, so that the AU can continue playing its role.”

The United States has been at the forefront of pressing for action on Darfur. But – strange as it might seem – it has also maintained close intelligence links with the Sudanese government.

In 2005, for example, the head of Sudanese intelligence was flown in a CIA jet to Washington. And US officials have worked closely with Sudan on anti-terrorism issues.

But the judicial noose has been gradually tightening around Mr Bashir.

In June, the International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo briefed the UN Security Council on Sudan’s refusal to arrest two government officials for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Now the court has decided it will go higher – and indicted President Omar al-Bashir himself.

Sudan ‘will block genocide case’

Sudan has said it will do all it can to block the work of the International Criminal Court, which has accused the nation’s leader of genocide in Darfur.

President Omar al-Bashir’s most senior adviser told the BBC the allegations were designed to generate hostility between tribal groups in Darfur.

Ghazi Salaheddin said that if the ICC pursued the case it could jeopardise relations between Sudan and the UN.

Meanwhile, the UN is withdrawing about 200 non-essential staff from Darfur.

The UN said the decision to pull back staff from the joint UN-African Union Darfur mission, Unamid, came after recent violence and as a precaution after the genocide accusation.

In the capital, Khartoum, the UN told its staff to stay at home as thousands of Sudanese took to the streets rallying in support of their president.

Mr Bashir, who says the accusations are lies, is accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Judges at the ICC, an independent body, are yet to decide if there are reasonable grounds to issue an arrest warrant against Mr Bashir.

Some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes, the UN estimates.

Sudan’s government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

‘No jurisdiction’

In a BBC interview, Ghazi Salaheddin said Sudan did not recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction and it would be rallying support among its allies to try to block proceedings.

Efforts to indict a sitting head of state would set a dangerous precedent, he said.

Allegations of genocide by the ICC’s chief prosecutor were designed to generate hostility between tribal groups in Darfur, Mr Salaheddin said.

“On the allegation of genocide, an international commission sanctioned by the United Nations has come and investigated the situation in Sudan and has concluded that there was no genocide. So genocide is out of the question,” he said.

Mr Salaheddin denied the government of Sudan was blackmailing the international community by failing to provide security guarantees for peacekeepers and humanitarian staff.

He said that Sudan would be seeking support from its allies in the Arab League, which is meeting on Saturday to discuss how to respond to the ICC’s accusations.

The UN runs large-scale humanitarian operations in the region and has thousands of peacekeepers in Darfur as part of a joint mission with the African Union (AU).

African Union dilemma

In its first reaction, China expressed grave concern over the ICC prosecutor’s decision to seek the arrest of Omar al-Bashir.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the court should try to help bring stability to Sudan and not to undermine it.

He said China would continue to consult with other members of the UN Security Council about whether to block the ICC but would not speculate on possible results of talks.

Meanwhile Russia called for “restraint” from all sides.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN said Sudan and the UN must “exercise restraint and find solutions that will help the people of Sudan and resolve the crisis in Darfur”.

The US, which is not part of the ICC, offered some praise on Monday for prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s charge.

“In our view, recognition of the humanitarian disaster and the atrocities that have gone on there is a positive thing,” state department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

But the African Union urged caution. Speaking on behalf of the AU chairman, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said the ICC should suspend its decision on whether to seek Mr Bashir’s arrest until problems in Darfur were resolved.

The Peace and Security Commissioner for the AU, Ramtane Lamamra, has flown to Sudan for a meeting with Mr Bashir and other members of the government.

The AU Commission expressed concern that “hard-won gains made in the search for peace and reconciliation in the Sudan” could be jeopardised.

Foreign ministers of the 15 countries currently serving on the AU’s Peace and Security Council are expected to meet in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital where the AU is based, next week.

The charges against President Bashir put African countries in an acutely difficult position, says the BBC’s Liz Blunt in Addis Ababa.

They supply almost all the troops for the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, and are also the countries most likely to be called upon to carry out any arrest warrant, she says.

11 thoughts on “Judicial noose tightens around al-Bashir

  1. Martin Plaut is nothing but a BBC reporter that does not know what he is talking about. Unlike a typical journalist, he is a very biased man towards Washington thinking; and we all know what Washington thinking has been for the last 50 years or so.

  2. Meles will not be on the list as long as the Bush Administration is in office. If he were to be charged now, he will be forced to give information that would implicate Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, former Charge D’Affair at the U.S. embassy in Addis Vicki Huddleston, current U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamamoto and other incomptent State Department officials in the crimes committed against the Ethiopian people. They will have to be charged as acommplices before the fact and after the fact. I don’t think this is going to happen now. However, when Senator Barrack (Ye-Tebareke) Obama becomes President of the U.S. (this great country that lost its moral compass and world leadership under the Bush Administration), Meles Zenawi will face criminal charges
    by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court like his frined al-Bashir.

    Thank you.

  3. Is it my eye ir does Meles looks like Al Bashir. The resumblance is striking. Could it be Al Bashir is Meles’s Father.

    Ato Elais, can you put the two pictures next to each other and post it in a more visible place on your front page?

    Mamo Qilo aka Joro Tebi

  4. If GW Bush and Meles Zenawi were the top three on the list, this ICC hoopla would start to sound logical. Fascists Bush and Meles made not only shamed their own people but caused more death and destruction to other sovreign country women and children than anyone in this generation!!

  5. Albashir was caught by surprise. The international court that rarely paid attention to genocide in Africa, has at last acted. This sends a strong message to the strong men of Africa, that sooner or later they would be held to account for their cruelty! But the situation with our despot is different.
    So adept in political prostituation, Meles has not only been Albashir’s protege but also the darling of the US and the UK: The fee for his service was their connivance with his killings, torture and the stalinist economy that intentionally is perpetuating famine!
    So much outcry about Zimbabwe and Mugabe, and absolute silence when it comes to Ethiopia. Yes, they would justify their policy that it was not in the interst of neither the US nor the UK!
    Oh God, May it be His wish that mercenaries are also tried for their contempt for the human life!

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