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WANTED: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

OneWorld.net, News Report, Leila Rafei Posted: Mar 04, 2009

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the conflicted region of Darfur.

The warrant marks a "total paradigm shift in the world -- heads of state can no longer commit atrocious crimes and get away with it while brandishing the shield of national sovereignty," said Laura Hendrick, outreach director for democracy advocacy group Citizens for Global Solutions. "World leaders will have to face the scales of justice from now on."

The global advocacy group Human Rights Watch agreed, calling the warrant "a warning to abusive leaders...[signaling] that even those at the top may be held to account for mass murder, rape, and torture."

Approximately 300,000 people have died over the past five years in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003, estimates the United Nations.

"Essentially, Bashir cannot run and he cannot hide," continued Hendrick. The 108 nations that have ratified the ICC's Rome Statute are obliged to turn over Bashir to authorities if he tries to cross their borders.

"The down side to this news is that while the 138 countries that have signed the Rome Statute in support of the ICC can all claim victory in Bashir's arrest, the United States cannot," added Hendrick, explaining that former U.S. President George W. Bush unsigned the Statute in 2002.

Bashir is the first ever head of state to be indicted by the ICC while still in office.

While human rights activists have applauded the move, many African leaders fear that, with tension extremely high in Sudan, the arrest of Bashir could lead to a renewed outbreak of violence between the president's supporters and those who support the indictment. The African Union (AU) also says Bashir is a necessary player in the peace process mediated by the Arab League, AU, and other groups.

"We cannot sacrifice peace in pursuit of justice," said AU deputy chairperson Erastus Mwencha, according to a January report from the Panafrican News Agency. "We are interested in processes that are complementary to each other, but which do not compromise the search for both."

Many African peace advocates, however, don't believe that peace and justice are incompatible.

"It would be misguided to believe that the pursuit of justice could obstruct the peace process in Darfur," noted Africa Action, a U.S.-based advocacy group that has been discussing the situation with African civil society leaders and academics. "At present, over six years after the government of Sudan began its ruthless strategy of counter-insurgency by genocide, there is no political peace process for the region of which to speak.

"The ICC indictment of General Bashir can provide the UN Security Council with vital leverage on Khartoum," the group added, urging U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to strengthen the mandate of the ICC by re-signing the Rome Statute.

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