Int’l court appeals judges to rule on whether to indict Sudan president on genocide charges

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Court to rule on Sudan president genocide charges

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court are ruling Wednesday on whether Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir should be charged with waging genocide in Darfur.

The court charged al-Bashir with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in March 2009 for allegedly orchestrating a campaign of murder, torture, rape and forced expulsions in Darfur province. But judges said there was insufficient evidence to merit charging him with three genocide counts.

Prosecutors appealed that decision, saying they presented enough evidence to merit issuing an indictment and arrest warrant.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo argued that at the indictment stage of the case he only needs to prove there are “reasonable grounds to believe” al-Bashir was responsible for genocide.

Instead, he argued, the judges last March applied a too-high standard of proof called “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Judges on Wednesday could reject the appeal, issue genocide charges or instruct the original panel of judges to take another look at the case and apply a lower standard of proof.

Al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state indicted by the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, refuses to recognize the court’s jurisdiction and has vowed never to surrender.

His indictment last March further isolated his hardline regime. Since the charges were issued, he has travelled to friendly countries, but called off trips to nations where he fears he could be arrested and sent to The Hague.

His government expelled 13 of the most important international aid agencies working in Darfur in response to the charges, further compounding the humanitarian crisis in a region where 300,000 have died since fighting broke out in 2003 between the government and rebels. The United Nations says 2.7 million people have been driven from their homes.

Moreno Ocampo accuses al-Bashir of mobilizing the entire Sudanese state apparatus with the aim of destroying a substantial part of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur over more than six years.

Prosecutors accuse Sudanese troops and the janjaweed Arab militia they support of murdering civilians and preying on them in refugee camps. Moreno Ocampo said part of the alleged genocide was a campaign of rape to drive women into the desert, where they die of starvation.

Analysts said last March’s decision was vital in laying the groundwork for potential indictments of other leaders who have been mentioned as possible targets of war crimes investigations as it rejected head of state immunity.

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