(New York) - Members of the United Nations Security Council should press for the surrender and trial of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and others wanted for serious crimes committed in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 5, 2009, the Security Council, which mandated the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes in Darfur, will be briefed by the ICC prosecutor on its investigation, including on the Sudanese government's failure to cooperate.
On March 4, ICC judges granted an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in Sudan's abusive counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur. Although Sudan is not a state party to the ICC, it is obligated to cooperate with the court under Security Council Resolution 1593, which referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC.
"President al-Bashir is accused of orchestrating heinous crimes - including widespread murder and rape - in Darfur," said Richard Dicker, International Justice Program director at Human Rights Watch. "After asking the ICC to investigate the crimes in Darfur, Security Council members owe it to the victims to press for surrender of those wanted by the court, including President Omar al-Bashir."
The prosecutor's June report finds that Sudan has failed to cooperate with the court. The Sudanese government reacted to the warrant for al-Bashir by expelling 13 international aid agencies and closing three national aid agencies that provided life-saving assistance to more than 1 million people throughout Sudan.
Some African officials have claimed that the ICC is unfairly targeting Africans, noting that the court's first situations under investigation are from Africa. However, three out of four of these situations were voluntarily referred by the states where the crimes were committed: Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic. The fourth, Darfur, came before the court as a result of the UN Security Council referral.
African civil society groups and leaders, in statements signed last month at conferences in Banjul and Cape Town, expressed strong support for the ICC to provide justice when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute.
"Despite hostility to the ICC by some African leaders who seem to fear accountability, there is strong backing for the court in Africa," said Dicker. "The voices trying to discredit the ICC will not drown out the support for the court from human rights defenders and victims across Africa."
Some African officials have also criticized the court for not investigating situations outside Africa. The court makes decisions about its investigations on a variety of factors, including whether it has jurisdiction. Some of the worst crimes perpetrated since 2002 around the world have been committed in states that are not parties to the court and are thus outside the court's authority.
Despite its limitations, international justice should not be denied to African victims where it can be achieved because it is not yet possible to ensure justice for all, Human Rights Watch said. Rather, the reach of accountability should be extended to all states where serious international crimes occur. This can be done in part through efforts to expand participation in the ICC.
On March 31, 2005, the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC prosecutor. The resolution requires the government of Sudan and all parties to the conflict to cooperate fully with the court and the prosecutor. In addition to President Omar al-Bashir, the court has issued arrest warrants for the state minister for humanitarian affairs, Ahmed Haroun (who has since become governor of South Kordofan), and a "Janjaweed" militia leader, Ali Kosheib. Sudan refuses to hand over any of the suspects.
On May 17, 2009, the ICC charged a rebel leader, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, with war crimes stemming from an attack on an African Union base in Haskanita, South Darfur, Sudan on September 30, 2007, that killed 12 peacekeepers and civilian police officers from the African Union Mission in Sudan. In November 2008, the ICC prosecutor submitted an application to the judges for arrest warrants for three rebel leaders, including Abu Garda, in relation to the Haskanita attack. Judges are still examining the allegations in relation to the two remaining rebel suspects, whose names have not been publicly released. Abu Garda voluntarily made his initial appearance before the court on May 18.