Sudanese officials who deny and deceive the world about crimes committed in Sudan’s western Darfur region might face criminal charges, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said.
In March, the Hague-based ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on suspicion of war crimes such as orchestrating mass killings and deportations in Darfur, a remote region of Sudan roughly the size of France.
“(Bashir) used the state apparatus not only to commit massive crimes but also to dissimulate them, and therefore facilitate their continuation,” ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the UN Security Council.
“My office is considering the criminal responsibility of Sudanese officials who actively deny and dissimulate crimes,” he said, adding that the crimes in Darfur “are continuing.”
Khartoum denies that Bashir or any other Sudanese government or military official committed war crimes in Darfur. It has refused to cooperate with the court.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting Darfur. A government-led counter-insurgency campaign drove more than 2 million from their homes and the United Nations says as many as 300 000 people died, but Khartoum rejects that figure.
Moreno-Ocampo said Sudanese officials who deny that crimes have been committed do not enjoy any immunity from the court.
“Since Nuremberg, due obedience is no longer a legal excuse for the commission of crimes,” he said.
The prosecutor was referring to the World War Two tribunals in Germany which tried Nazis accused of crimes against humanity and other war crimes. Many Nazis defended themselves by saying they were following orders.
Sudanese UN Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, who has vehemently defended Bashir and denied that his government is responsible for war crimes in Darfur, was quick to respond to Moreno-Ocampo’s comments.
“This exposes his (Moreno-Ocampo’s) bankruptcy,” the Sudanese envoy told Reuters.
“We will charge him with political prostitution.”
The ICC prosecutor told the 15-nation Security Council that the court was taking steps to protect its witnesses. Those believed to be helping the court, he said, can face cruel treatment if they fall into the hands of Sudanese authorities.
“Individuals falsely suspected of providing evidence to the ICC have been arrested and tortured in Khartoum,” he said. “There are public threats by the Sudanese authorities against anybody who cooperates with the court.”
Moreno-Ocampo also said that Bashir’s decision to cancel a planned trip to Istanbul to attend an Islamic summit showed that he was facing increasing isolation and “sends a clear message (that) President al-Bashir will face justice.”
Richard Dicker, an international justice expert at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, agreed with the ICC prosecutor’s assessment, telling Reuters that “Bashir’s world is getting smaller and smaller.”
The ICC prosecutor has also accused another Sudanese official, a former Janjaweed militia commander and three rebels with war crimes in Darfur. One of the rebels has travelled to The Hague to defend himself.