Court charges Sudan leader

Bashir accused of war crimes; 10 aid groups are expelled

Demonstrators held up pictures of Omar al-Bashir during a rally in Khartoum protesting an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for the Sudanese president. Demonstrators held up pictures of Omar al-Bashir during a rally in Khartoum protesting an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for the Sudanese president. (Nasser Nasser/ Associated Press)
By Mike Corder
Associated Press / March 5, 2009
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THE HAGUE - The president of Sudan became a wanted man yesterday when the International Criminal Court charged him with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur - its first action against a sitting head of state and one that could set the stage for more world leaders to be indicted.

President Omar al-Bashir's government retaliated by expelling 10 humanitarian groups from Darfur and seizing their assets, threatening lifesaving operations, a UN spokeswoman said.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States supported the court's action "to hold accountable those who are responsible for the heinous crimes in Darfur." Up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes in the region.

UN officials in Sudan will continue to deal with Bashir because he remains the president of the country, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

In the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, the government denounced the warrant as part of a Western conspiracy aimed at destabilizing the vast oil-rich nation south of Egypt. "There will be no recognition of or dealing with the white man's court, which has no mandate in Sudan or against any of its people," the Information Ministry said.

Several thousand people waving pictures of Bashir and denouncing the court turned out in a rally in Khartoum. Some waved posters of chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo's face with pig ears superimposed to chants of, "Cowardly pig, you will not get to the Sudan."

Bashir, who denies the accusations, drove through the capital after the warrant was announced, waving at crowds. Security was tightened at many embassies, and some diplomats and aid workers stayed home amid fears of retaliation against Westerners.

The decision by the court lays the groundwork for potential indictments of other heads of state who have been mentioned as possible targets of war crimes investigations, including leaders of other African nations and Israel.

"Head of state immunity no longer is a bar to prosecuting heads of state who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity during their time in office," said David Crane, an international law professor at Syracuse University and former prosecutor of the Sierra Leone tribunal that indicted exiled Liberian President Charles Taylor and put him on trial in The Hague. After he left office, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was indicted by the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Crane said the principle could even extend to former president George W. Bush over claims that officials from his administration may have engaged in torture by using coercive interrogation techniques on terror suspects.

Congressional Democrats and other critics have charged that some of the harsh interrogation techniques amounted to torture, a contention that Bush and other officials rejected.

The prospect of The Hague-based court ever trying Bush is considered extremely remote. The US government does not recognize the court and the only other way it could be investigated is if the Security Council were to order it, something unlikely to happen with Washington a veto-wielding permanent member of the council.

The Security Council adopted a resolution ordering the International Criminal Court to investigate Darfur in 2005, leading to the charges against Bashir even though Sudan does not recognize the court's jurisdiction.

Both Milosevic and Taylor were indicted by temporary courts. Yesterday's ruling is significant because the International Criminal Court is permanent.

Moreno Ocampo had accused Sudanese troops and the janjaweed Arab militia they support of murdering civilians and preying on them in refugee camps. He said the militia also waged a campaign of rape to drive women into the desert, where they die of starvation.

ICC spokeswoman Laurence Blairon said that in issuing the warrant for the arrest of Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the three-judge panel said he is suspected of responsibility for "intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property."

But the judges said there was insufficient evidence to support charges of genocide.

The UN said the humanitarian groups Sudan had ordered expelled include Oxfam, Solidarities, Doctors Without Borders, CARE, and Mercy Corps.

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