Image: Destroyed home in Darfur
Stuart Price  /  Albany Associates via AP
The genocide charges against Sudan's president include acts such as destroying villages and homes, as depicted in this photograph, which shows a demolished homestead in the village of Kafod, Darfur, on July 2.
msnbc.com news services
updated 7/14/2008 8:27:08 PM ET 2008-07-15T00:27:08

Starvation and soul-destroying gang rapes are Sudan's weapons of choice in Darfur's genocide, according to prosecutors at the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.

Filing charges Monday against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said the Sudanese leader had developed a new way of perpetrating humanity's ultimate crime.

"Al-Bashir is executing this genocide without gas chambers, without bullets, without machetes," prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters at The Hague-based court. "The desert will do it for him. It is a genocide by attrition."

Moreno-Ocampo filed 10 charges against al-Bashir related to a campaign of extermination the U.N. says has claimed 300,000 lives and driven 2.5 million people from their homes. Those who survive are preyed upon by the government-backed janjaweed Arab militia and regular troops, Moreno-Ocampo said.

"They have no more water, no more food, no more cattle. They have lost everything," he told The Associated Press in an interview before publicly unveiling his indictment. "They live because international humanitarian organizations are providing food for them."

He recalled one witness who heard one attacker say to another, "Do not waste your bullets. They have nothing to do.... They will die from hunger."

A three-judge panel was expected to take two to three months to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant.

The indictment marked the first time prosecutors at the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal have issued charges against a sitting head of state, though al-Bashir was unlikely to face trial any time soon.

Sudan says indictment a political stunt
Analysts warned it was a high-risk strategy that could backfire against the people in the war-torn desert region.

Image: Omar al-Bashir
Lionel Cironneau  /  AP file
A three-judge panel is expected to take two to three months to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, shown here in February 2007.
Sudan denounced the indictment as a political stunt, saying it would ignore any arrest order and was considering all options, including an unspecified military response. One Sudanese lawmaker said his government could no longer guarantee the safety of U.N. staff in the troubled region.

Human rights groups welcomed the prosecutor's move, but cautioned it could provoke a violent backlash from Sudan, while offering little prospect that al-Bashir will be arrested and sent for trial to The Hague. The court, which began work in 2002, has no enforcement arm and relies on governments to act as its police force.

"The prosecutor's legal strategy also poses major risks for the fragile peace and security environment in Sudan, with a real chance of greatly increasing the suffering of very large numbers of its people," the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a statement.

Video: Denial

In an interview with the AP, Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed, said al-Bashir was weighing all options, including a military response.

Al-Bashir likely will attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September, and Sudan would consider any attempt to arrest him a declaration of war, Mohamed said.

In Khartoum, the deputy parliament speaker, Mohammed al-Hassan al-Ameen, warned Sudan was unable to guarantee "the safety of any individual."

"The U.N. asks us to keep its people safe, but how can we guarantee their safety when they want to seize our head of state?" al-Ameen said on state TV.

Move could undermine north-south peace talks
Sudan's anger could undermine talks to resolve the decades-old enmity between north and south Sudan, and endanger efforts by relief workers and an ill-equipped U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force to protect 2.5 million people living in refugee camps, the Crisis Group said.

"These are significant risks, particularly given that the likelihood of actually executing any warrant issued against al-Bashir is remote, at least in the short term," it added.

Al-Bashir, who has ruled Sudan for 19 years, appears invulnerable in his capital, though an international warrant would leave him open to arrest outside the country's borders, restricting his travel and putting him in a category akin to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who faces a U.N. travel ban.

Still, African nations have rarely taken action against one of their leaders, and al-Bashir is likely to feel few constraints on his own continent.

On Monday, the Sudanese leader appeared at an elaborate law-signing ceremony in Khartoum, where dozens of lawmakers, diplomats and military leaders paraded past him cheering. Al-Bashir waved a wooden cane and smiled as advisers danced and a brass band played nationalist songs.

Moreno-Ocampo acknowledged the risks posed by an indictment, but said he had an obligation to pursue the president.

"I am a prosecutor doing a judicial case," he said. "In the camps, al-Bashir's forces kill the men and rape the women. He wants to end the history of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people. I don't have the luxury to look away. I have evidence."

300,000 dead since 2003
The 10 charges filed against al-Bashir include three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.

If Sudan refuses to turn over al-Bashir, it will be up to the U.N. Security Council to press Khartoum to cooperate, something it has so far failed to do.

"Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo's charges against al-Bashir underscore the need for the U.N. Security Council to finally act decisively with a comprehensive strategy for Sudan," said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition.

Achieving unanimous backing in the Security Council for any action against Sudan will be fraught with problems since two of its permanent members, China and Russia, are Sudan's allies.

Both are accused of arming Sudan, but both also approved the council's 2005 resolution ordering Moreno-Ocampo to investigate crimes in Darfur.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he "expects that the government of Sudan will continue to cooperate fully with the United Nations in Sudan, while fulfilling its obligation to ensure the safety and security of all United Nations personnel and property."

The war in Darfur began in 2003 as a crackdown on anti-government rebels who complained their arid region was neglected by Khartoum. The U.N. estimates 300,000 people have died, directly from attacks or indirectly through starvation.

A generation of 'janjaweed babies'
Moreno-Ocampo said Sudan's forces and their janjaweed militia proxies now deliberately target civilians in villages and camps rather than the rebels.

The prosecutor said mass rape was producing a generation of so-called "janjaweed babies" and "an explosion of infanticide" by victims.

Moreno-Ocampo said an arrest warrant for al-Bashir would present the world a chance to stop the killings.

"We are dealing with a genocide. Is it easy to stop? No. Do we need to stop? Yes," he told the AP in an interview Monday before publicly unveiling his indictment.

"The international community failed in the past, failed to stop Rwanda genocide, failed to stop Balkans crimes," he added. "So this time, the new thing is there is a court, an independent court ... which is saying, 'This is a genocide.'"

Other U.N.-created international tribunals have charged Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian President Charles Taylor with war crimes while they were still in office. Milosevic died in his cell in March 2006. Taylor is currently on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Sudan refuses to recognize indictment

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