Prosecutor says new charges possible in Darfur

AP News
Posted: Dec 04, 2009 6:12 PM

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court raised the possibility Friday of charging Sudanese officials who cover up the government's involvement in alleged war crimes in Darfur and said President Omar al-Bashir will ultimately face international justice.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he is also reviewing information on rapes of women and girls by al-Bashir's forces in camps in Darfur, the use of child soldiers by the Sudanese military and rebel groups, and the government's announcement that it would close camps for the displaced by early 2010, which could be a crime if people are forced to return to villages without food, water and security.

In his 10th report to the U.N. Security Council, Moreno-Ocampo stressed that "President al-Bashir, instead of stopping the crimes, is stopping the information about the crimes."

Al-Bashir was charged in March with orchestrating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, where U.N. officials estimate up to 300,000 people have died and about 2.7 million have been displaced since 2003. The president has refused to recognize the tribunal's authority.

Moreno-Ocampo told the council that "crimes are continuing" in Darfur, citing recent indiscriminate bombings of civilians, delays in the delivery of humanitarian aid, rapes, the continuing use of child soldiers, and attacks on two villages in North Darfur last week "in which civilians were captured, villagers beaten and properties looted."

He said his office has evidence showing that al-Bashir "is covering up his own crimes" and "is considering the criminal responsibility of Sudanese officials who actively deny and dissimulate crimes."

"Whoever is part of this cover-up could be prosecuted by the ICC," he said. "That's clear. There is no immunity ... As soon as someone is personally contributing to the commission of crimes, sometimes killing people, sometimes covering up the crime, (they) could be prosecuted by the ICC."

Moreno-Ocampo was cagey when asked about the possibility of prosecuting Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Mohamad, who has vehemently defended al-Bashir, but he stressed that no one is exempt.

Mohamad responded by calling Moreno-Ocampo a "mercenary of death and destruction" and accusing him of "lies" and of trying to politicize his office.

"The war in Darfur is over," Mohamed told reporters. "We will not be bothered by this prosecutor. The case of the ICC for us is a closed thing. We will continue to augment and reinforce the peace efforts in Sudan ... to find a lasting settlement."

Moreno-Ocampo accused al-Bashir of trying to shift international attention from the crimes committed in Darfur.

"He's choosing as his defense line political campaigns, communications campaigns against the court ... exacerbating the conflict in the south to try to shift attention from the victims in Darfur," the prosecutor said.

A fragile 2005 peace agreement ended the more than two-decade-long civil war between the Arab-dominated government in the north and the mostly Christian oil-rich south, which left more than 2 million dead. The south is slated to hold a referendum on independence in January 2011 _ which the government strongly opposes _ and fighting has continued in the disputed border region.

Moreno-Ocampo said he "will need the full support of the council to ensure that the attention remains on the need to arrest the persons who are the object of arrest warrants and on the need to end crimes in Darfur."

He said al-Bashir's recent aversion to traveling abroad to high-level events bodes well for his ultimate arrest.

The president's decision to skip the U.N. General Assembly, the Organization of Islamic Conference and other meetings is a sign of his growing isolation because of the increasing global support for enforcing the court's arrest warrant, Moreno-Ocampo said.

He praised the African Union and the Arab League for engaging with the Sudanese government to promote peace efforts while respecting the court's arrest warrant for the president.

"Respect for the court decision to issue an arrest warrant against president al-Bashir sends a clear message: president al-Bashir will face justice," the prosecutor said.

"The arrest of president Bashir will take time, maybe two years, maybe two months, maybe 20 years," he said.

"He will face justice," Moreno-Ocampo said, just like former president Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and Charles Taylor of Liberia and former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda who were brought before international tribunals.