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Sudan: Arrest Warrant Against President Turned 9 Years

Becoming a president is an aspiration that many citizens, some of them well-intentioned, have for their country. Presidents represent their country around the world, supposedly seek what is best for their constituency and are responsible for ensuring their protection. A president should be a trustworthy person fighting for the common interest of all citizens.

However, this is not the case for the Sudan: the current Head of State -- Omar al-Bashir is subject to two arrest warrants for massive human rights violations committed in the Western province of Darfur.

On June 30, 1989, al-Bashir staged a coup d'état and deposed President al- Sayyid Ahmad Al-Mighani and Premier Sadiq- al Mahdi. Consequently, he split up the Revolutionary Command Council and appointed himself President of the Republic of Sudan, transforming it into a single Muslim state.

Civil conflict broke out in the Darfur region in 2003, resulting in the commission of several crimes -- including genocide. The Darfuri refugees had to flee to Chad after a Sudanese government supported militia, the Janjaweed, started killing civilians. This raised the attention of the international community, and the situation was considered by the UNSC as a "threat to peace and international security." For that reason, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was called to investigate the situation for the first time in history via a formal request provided under resolution 1593 (2005), binding on all states that are member to the United Nations.

Following the request and a careful examination of the evidence provided, the Pre-Trial Chamber 1 issued arrest warrants. The first one against al-Bashir is dated March 4, 2009, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, such as intentionally directing attacks against a civil population as such or against individual civilians not taking part in hostilities; pillage as a war crime; murder as crime against humanity; extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape as crimes against humanity. The second arrest warrant was issued by the same pre-trial chamber on July 12, 2010. This one is for charges of genocide, including genocide by killing; genocide by causing serious bodily or mental harm; and genocide by deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction.

Both arrest warrants refer to crimes allegedly committed in Darfur. President al-Bashir remains at large, and the refusal of the Sudanese government to cooperate with the Court has been consistent ever since.

It is important that al-Bashir answers for the crimes he is accused of in front of an impartial and independent court of law, such as the ICC. He will not be the first Sudanese suspect to appear before the ICC. Previously, Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, accused of committing war crimes in the Darfur region, voluntarily appeared before Pre-Trial Chamber 1 in 2009, in response to a summons. He appeared before the ICC due to his conviction that he is innocent of the charges brought against him. In 2010, the same Pre- Trial Chamber refused to confirm charges against Abu Garda. Given that, if al-Bashir would like to deny the charges against him, he should declare his innocence before the ICC as Abu Garda did in the past. While the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC has a right to appeal the decision of the judges, the point is that a fair and impartial process will be taken, as it was in the case of Abu Garda. In addition, Sudan has the duty to honor the existing obligations emerging from its membership to the United Nations, one of which includes complying with the UN Security Council resolutions.

But that will not happen until all of us, as an international community, honor our promise made in Rome to end impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern when the funding treaty of the ICC was adopted by an overwhelming majority of states.

The ICC needs cooperation from States at all levels. In order to be effective and truly fight against global impunity, the Court needs to be able to rely on the cooperation it can receive from states and all relevant stakeholders, including also international and regional organizations. The ICC has no police force and no prisons. As per the Statute, states are responsible for arresting and surrendering ICC suspects to the Court, in gathering evidence, providing security to victims, and gaining access to crime sites, among many others.

Effective cooperation is one of the commitments governments assume as they become parties to the Rome Statute: it is the only way states will ensure the enforcement of the Court's work, decisions, and rulings. Finally, state-wide toleration instances of non cooperation constitute a blatant breach of international law.

We have to prevent this from happening; otherwise, we will be condoning impunity- which is exactly the opposite of we all seek.

This post was co-authored with Stephen A. Lamony, Senior Advisor to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

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