Clinton says al-Bashir can "have his day in court"

Wed Mar 4, 2009 3:06pm EST

(Recasts with Clinton comments, previous JERUSALEM)

BRUSSELS, March 4 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday if Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir believed he had been wrongly charged for war crimes in Darfur he could "have his day in court".

Speaking to reporters en route to Brussels, Clinton said she hoped the indictment issued earlier by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague would not lead to "increased violence" on the part of Sudan's government.

"President Bashir would have a chance to have his day in court if he believes that the indictment is wrongly charged. He can certainly contest it," said Clinton.

"I certainly hope that it does not lead to any additional actions of violence or punishment on the part of the Bashir government," added Clinton.

The top U.S. diplomat said the ICC had issued its indictment based on a very long investigation and the case was now in the judicial system "properly so".

Bashir was indicted on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity but a panel of judges said it had insufficient grounds to charge him for genocide in a conflict that U.N. officials say has killed as many as 300,000 people since 2003.

"Governments and individuals who either conduct or condone atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in Sudan, have to be held accountable," she said.

While not a member of the ICC, the former Bush administration said it would cooperate wherever needed with the investigation into atrocities in Darfur.

The Obama administration is reviewing whether to sign up to the ICC as part of a review of foreign policy on many fronts. (Reporting by Sue Pleming; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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