THE HAGUE - The International Criminal Court (ICC) Wednesday announced an international warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for atrocities in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
He faces seven counts - five of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes - over his alleged role in masterminding a counter-insurgency against ethnic groups that opposed his government in Darfur.
Al-Bashir is accused of having sanctioned the actions of government troops backed by Arab-speaking Janjaweed militias that also turned on the civilian population of Darfur.
The warrant did not include a charge of genocide requested by prosecutors. ICC officials, however said, if additional evidence is gathered against al-Bashir by the prosecution, the case could be amended to include a charge of this nature.
Al-Bashir is the first acting head of state to be indicted. He is also the most senior figure pursued by the court in The Hague since its inception in 2002.
The decision comes amid fears of a resurgence of violence in Sudan.
In 2005, the UN Security Council commissioned the ICC to investigate the situation in the region. Last July, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested the warrant for the Sudanese leader.
According to UN estimates, around 35,000 people have been killed there since 2003 and a further 300,000 have died from hunger and disease and some 2.7 million were displaced.
Al-Bashir denies the charges and dismissed the ICC proceedings. His government rejects the court’s jurisdiction and prosecutors’ claims of genocide and had warned it would terminate its relationship with the UN if a warrant is issued.
The government in Khartoum also rejects claims of genocide. The African Union and the Arab League had urged the UN Security Council to prevent the warrant from being issued as peace negotiations were under way in Sudan.
According to UN diplomats, Russia and China supported the move to prevent the warrant from being issued. However, the council’s three other permanent members - the US, France and Britain - did not agree.