ICC reverses Al-Bashir Genocide ruling

The appeal chamber of the ICC has today issued a ruling reversing a decision of the pre-trial chamber on the Al-Bashir case. Last year the pre-trial chamber had decided that the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient evidence to charge Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir with genocide. The appeal court has now concluded that

The decision by the pre-trial chamber not to issue a warrant in the respect of the charge of genocide was materially affected by an error of law.

The case will now go back to the pre-trial chamber for them to rule on whether to add genocide to Bashir’s charge sheet. The president of Sudan is already charged with seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, extermination, torture and rape.

Sudan’s response was, as would be expected, critical of the ruling claiming that it was motiviated by politics and designed to harm democratic elections due to take place in April. A senior information ministry official was quoted as saying:

This procedure of the ICC is only to stop the efforts of the Sudanese government towards elections and a peaceful exchange of power.

ICC issues arrest warrant against Sudan president

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today issued an arrest warrant and charged the Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity arising out of the conflict in Darfur. The judges dismissed the prosecution’s most contentious charge of genocide which arose out of allegations that Bashir had tried to wipe out three non-Arab ethnic groups.This is the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state.An aide to President Bashir was quoted in the Guardian as describing the decision as “neo-colonialism”; whilst protesters took to the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

The ICC, in its press release, reported that

“The Chamber found that Omar al Bashir, as the de jure and de facto President of Sudan and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, is suspected of having coordinated the design and implementation of the counter-insurgency campaign. In the alternative, it also found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that he was in control of all branches of the “apparatus” of the State of Sudan and used such control to secure the implementation of the counter-insurgency campaign.”

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, welcomed the decision but there has been disquiet amongst those who have been trying to broker peace talks in the area. Arab states and the African Union had argued for a postponement of the charges to allow Bashir a final chance to end the Darfur conflict while not under duress.

Sudan does not recognise the ICC, and Bashir said the court could “eat” the arrest warrant, which he described as a western plot to hinder Sudan’s development. Despite this, the case will raise questions about his political future.

ICC Prosecutor to Charge Sudanese President?

This blog post was submitted by PhD candidate and Government of Ireland Scholar Pádraig McAuliffe, who is reading for a PhD entitled The Serious Crimes Process of East Timor in the Field of Human Rights Law under the supervision of CCJHR Co-Director, Dr. Siobhán Mullally

The Guardian, The New York Times and the BBC this morning report that the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo is to seek the arrest of the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on Monday next for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur. Currently, two Sudanese (Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed militia, and Ahmad Harun, currently fulfilling one of the more ironic positions imaginable, that of domestic Humanitarian Affairs minister) are charged with 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including acts of murder, persecution, torture, rape and forcible displacement. Neither has come before the Court. At a time of existential crisis for the ICC, the move can be interpreted as a bid to reassert the ongoing relevance of a body that has yet to complete a trial since establishment in 2002 after the signing of the Rome Statute in 1998. As William Schabas, the head of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, notes: “This is a very decisive moment for the court. It has been going through a terrible period, this could revive its image and make people feel it’s a robust dynamic institution, or it could be another blow.” This note of pessimism is worth bearing in mind – the story of the ICC has been one of disappointment, disillusionment and anticlimax, most notably in the disintegration of the case against Joseph Kony and allegations by diplomats that the pursuit of arrest warrants in Uganda hampered peace negotiations.

There are justifiable fears that an indictment of Al-Bashir will impair what halting progress there has been made in calming, albeit imperfectly, the situation in Darfur. There are also fears an indictment might serve as motivation to remove international aid workers and peacekeepers in Darfur. The NY Times quotes Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at the Social Science Research Council in New York: “Bashir is paranoid; he feels the world is out to get him. He is prone to irrational outbursts and could respond in a very aggressive way.” Indeed, peacekeepers were attacked with seven fatalities last Tuesday, while several members of Doctors Without Borders were expelled from the country last week. A charge against Al-Bashir would represent another welcome erosion of the idea of head of state immunity most notable in the prosecutions of Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor. Though both were sitting heads of state at the time of indictment, there was little prospect of them being brought before the ICTY and SCSL while in power, as the Sudanese President so securely is. Milosevic and Taylor had to be removed from office domestically before being brought to justice, something there is little prospect of in Khartoum. Charges might also be welcomed as a move away from the patent absurdity of charging militia leaders and Ministers but ignoring those “conflict entrepreneurs” further up the chain who instigate or retain the capacity to restrain the violence.

Nonetheless, aside from the Kantian moral imperative to prosecute, what of the other instrumental purposes that so often animate transitional justice? Put more simply, given the patent unlikelihood of Al-Bashir being arrested and brought to The Hague any time in the foreseeable future, what good will come from charging someone who will never come before the courts and from hardening the attitude of someone who has shown a willingness to slaughter his own people and to remove international peacekeepers and aid workers whenever it becomes politic to do so? The ICC Chief Prosecutor’s attitude seems to be that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, but the candle could set fire to the negotiations that have brought peacekeepers to Darfur and restrained the butchery. It may dash what little hope of progress that remains.