By Melindah Sango
The International Criminal Court (ICC), governed by the Rome Statute, is the court established to hear cases which are considered of the most serious concern to the international community, including war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. On 4 March 2009, the ICC managed to send ripples around the world as it issued a warrant of arrest for the sitting president of Sudan, 65-year old Omar Al-Bashir. This is the first time in the history of the ICC that a current head of state has been formally charged with any crime. In their statement to the press, the judges said that the ICC did not recognise immunity for a head of state, which is widely recognised throughout the world as part of diplomatic law.
The warrant for seven listed counts against the Sudanese President is as follows: five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape) as well as two counts of war crimes (directing attacks against the civilian population). The charge that had been advanced by the Prosecutor for genocide was denied by the ICC, as it could not find that the Sudanese government had acted with specific intent to eliminate, in whole or part, three major ethnic groups (the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa).
The Judges of the ICC have requested cooperation from 180 state parties to the Rome Statute, as well as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members who are not party to the Statute, to assist in the arrest and surrender of Al-Bashir. The ICC has stated that under the UN Charter, the Sudanese Government is under a duty to cooperate with the Court, which overrides any other international agreement that the Sudanese government may have entered into.
However, it must be asked what impact the warrant will have in the lives of the Sudanese people. Sudan has already stated that it intends to defy the court order, with the Sudanese ambassador to the UN, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, declaring, “We strongly condemn this criminal move. It amounts to an attempt at regime change. We are not going to be bound by it, we are not going to respect it.” He also demonstrated a belief that many African and Arab states will not heed the call of the ICC to aid in the arrest of Al-Bashir. This belief has been supported by the fact that the African Union Commission Chairman, Jean Ping, has indicated that the warrant should be deferred in order to allow for peace talks between northern and southern Sudan to be completed.
In the week since the issuing of the warrant, 13 foreign aid groups providing assistance to over one million people, have been expelled from the country. The medical aid organisation, Doctors Without Borders, has stated that it was forced to remove its expatriate staff because the government of Sudan had ordered them to leave. The Sudanese government also warned them that they would be unable to assure their safety after the warrant was issued. Similarly, Oxfam had its license to operate revoked, after the decision of the ICC was announced 11 March. An even more serious repercussion of the warrant has been the threats to cause bloodshed by some of the Sudanese government figures. The head of Sudanese intelligence, Salah Gosh, has been reported in the Sudanese press as calling for “the amputation of the hands and the slitting of the throats of any person who dares badmouth Al-Bashir or support the ICC’s allegations against him.”
The main question is what the end result of the ICC’s ruling will be. Will it provoke more incidences of violence in Sudan? Or will it, as many human rights groups hope, serve to undermine Al-Bashir’s support in Sudan and in the African and Arab states? Only time will tell.