(CNSNews.com) – Amid warnings of more bloodshed in Darfur, the government of Sudan is mobilizing support at home and abroad in the face of attempts by the International Criminal Court to indict its president.
But an attempt to get support from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fell flat after Ban told President Omar al-Bashir in a weekend phone call that Ban has no influence on the ICC.
Ban also voiced unease about comments by Khartoum’s ambassador to the U.N., who linked the ICC move to the U.N.’s ongoing work in Sudan.
The envoy, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, warned that ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was “playing with fire” and said if the U.N. was serious about its engagement with Sudan, it should intervene.
Thousands of people rallied in Khartoum Sunday in support of al-Bashir, following reports late last week indicating that Moreno-Ocampo on Monday would indict him and other senior officials on charges of crimes against humanity.
The protestors, mobilized by government-affiliated groups, delivered a statement to U.N. offices accusing the ICC of acting at the behest of the U.S., Israel and the European Union.
The ruling National Congress Party on Sunday warned there would be more violence and bloodshed in Darfur if the indictment went ahead, wire services quoted state-run television as saying.
Khartoum has asked Arab states to rally round, and it will look to China and Russia for support as well. Beijing and Moscow on Friday showed their willingness to block international action against despotic African regimes when they used their U.N. Security Council veto to kill a resolution imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Although the ICC is legally independent of the U.N., the Security Council is relevant in this case because it referred the Darfur case to the Hague-based tribunal in the first place. And under the Rome statute which brought the ICC into force, the council could defer any prosecution for a year.
In a broad diplomatic offensive, Khartoum’s foreign ministry also summoned envoys from the permanent Security Council members and from African, Arab and Asian countries, warning that the ICC move could impact negatively on stability in Sudan and the broader region, the official Sudanese new agency SUNA reported.
Foreign Ministry undersecretary Matrif Siddiq asked “justice and peace-loving nations” to allow more time for a resolution to the Darfur situation. The conflict has been raging since early 2003, since when international experts believe it has cost around 200,000 lives and displaced another 2.5 million people.
China and African and Arab states were quick to voice concern.
SUNA quoted China’s ambassador to the U.N. as voicing opposition to an indictment, saying that it would pose a danger to efforts to end the conflict in Darfur.
China is a close diplomatic and economic ally as well as Khartoum’s main weapons supplier. Just last week officials from the two countries’ ruling parties meeting in Beijing reaffirmed their “long-term and stable friendly relationship,” Xinhua reported.
One of the visiting Sudanese, al-Bashir advisor Mustafa Ismail, attributed China’s enhanced influence in the region to its sympathetic understanding of African problems.
The strong bilateral ties and concerns about Darfur has prompted some advocacy groups to call for a boycott of this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, and was the stated reason for movie director Steven Spielberg’s decision to step down as artistic director for the event’s opening and closing ceremonies.
‘Misuse of indictments’
The Arab League at Sudan’s request will hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in the coming days, and it already has signaled support for Khartoum.
Hisham Youssef, head of the 22-nation Arab League’s Cairo-based secretary-general’s office, said the members would urge the ICC to refrain from politicizing its activities and not to interfere in Sudan’s internal affairs.
The African Union on Saturday warned that ICC plans to prosecute government officials could jeopardize peace efforts in Darfur and in a statement “reiterated the A.U.’s concern with the misuse of indictments against African leaders.”
A joint African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force, UNAMID, has 9,000 troops in Darfur. Seven were killed and 22 injured in an attack last Tuesday suspected to have been carried out by Janjaweed members. The U.N. subsequently raised its security level to the highest it has been in the country.
The ICC considers crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of sexual violence committed after July 1, 2002, when the Rome statute entered into force.
It is meant to prosecute serious crimes in cases where the accused person’s own government is unable or unwilling to do so. The U.N. Security Council can also refer cases, and exercised that right for the first time when in 2005 it referred the Darfur situation to the tribunal.
(Although the U.S. opposes the ICC – because of concerns of politicized lawsuits against American troops and other citizens abroad – it allowed the resolution to go through, abstaining rather than vetoing it.)
In line with ICC procedure, Moreno-Ocampo will ask judges of a pre-trial chamber to issue warrants for the arrest of those charged.
ICC judges last year issued warrants for two other Sudanese suspects in connection with Darfur – deputy government minister responsible for Darfur, Ahmed Horoun, and a commander of the notorious government-backed Janjeweed militia, Ali Abdel-Rahman.
Sudan is not a party to the ICC treaty. Not only did it refuse to hand the suspects over, but Horoun was subsequently promoted.
Moreno-Ocampo last month told the Security Council he had gathered evidence showing that the commission of crimes in Darfur over a period of five years “has required the sustained mobilization of the entire Sudanese state apparatus.”
He said the council had the power to ensure Sudan’s cooperation.
During the same council meeting, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the U.S. shared Moreno-Ocampo’s “assessment that accountability for past and present crimes against the people of Darfur is needed to enhance security and to send a warning to individuals who might resort to brutality as way of achieving their aims.”
The ICC plan has drawn mixed reactions from informed observers. The non-governmental organization Enough, set up last year with a focus on genocide and crimes against humanity, welcomed the move.
“The status quo in Sudan is one of the deadliest in the world,” said co-chairman John Prendergast. “Until there is a consequence for the commission of genocide, it will continue. This indictment introduces a cost, finally, into the equation.”
But Andrew Natsios, who served as the Bush administration’s special envoy to Sudan in 2006-7, warned that that move will only make Sudan’s leaders more intransigent.
“This indictment may well shut off the last remaining hope for a peaceful settlement for the country,” Natsios wrote on a blog focusing on Darfur, hosted by the Social Science Research Council.
Since its formation the ICC has indicted 12 individuals, all Africans, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This will be the first time it charges a sitting head of state.
Former Serbia president Slobodan Milosevic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a U.N. body, and died while on trial in 2006. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and is currently on trial in The Hague.