UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court prosecutor has asked the U.N. Security Council to consider urging countries or regional groups to arrest Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes.
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who finishes his term this month at the court, based in The Hague, briefed the council on the case on Tuesday, but his suggestion is unlikely to be acted upon because of China’s backing for Sudan.
The ICC indicted Bashir in 2009 and has also issued arrest warrants for Sudanese Defense Minister Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, former Interior Minister Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb for war crimes in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Violence in Darfur, where the United Nations and the African Union maintain a large joint peacekeeping operation, has subsided since its peak in 2003 and 2004, but rebel and tribal fighting has continued.
Khartoum mobilized troops and allied Arab tribes to quell the rebellion, unleashing a wave of violence that the United Nations and other observers estimate may have killed as many as 300,000 people. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.
Moreno-Ocampo told the U.N. Security Council that it was the primary responsibility of Sudan to carry out the arrests and that the peacekeeping mission should not be authorized to carry out or assist in any arrests.
“Instead, the council can in due course evaluate other possibilities including asking U.N. member states or regional organizations to execute arrest operations in furtherance of the arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court,” Ocampo told the 15-member Security Council.
“Such a discussion will be problematic, but the victims will receive a clear message - they are not ignored. And the perpetrators will received a clear message - there will be no impunity,” he said.
But such a request is unlikely to be made by the Security Council as veto-wielding member China traditionally acts a Khartoum’s protector.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong, the president of the Security Council for June, told the council on Tuesday that “the situation in Darfur, Sudan on the whole is easing now.”
Moreno-Ocampo also suggested on Monday that aid should be cut off to states that help Bashir evade arrest to convince them to hand him over to the International Criminal Court if he visits those countries.
Bashir’s government in Khartoum has dismissed the ICC charges as politically motivated and baseless.
“They are only targeting African leaders, nobody else. ICC is only trying to implement the agenda of some countries. It is not a court,” said Rabie Abdelatie, spokesman for Sudan’s information ministry.
However, Malawi President Joyce Banda earlier this month asked the African Union to prevent Bashir from attending a summit in her country, saying his visit would have “implications” for the economy.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeffrey DeLaurentis told the Security Council that the lack of arrests in the ICC Darfur case “merits renewed attention by this Council” and said it should consider “creative approaches and new tools.”
“We can and should review additional steps that can be undertaken to effectuate the ICC’s work in Darfur, execute outstanding arrest warrants, and ensure compliance by states with relevant international obligations,” DeLaurentis said.
Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program director, said Khartoum’s obstruction of justice had helped “spawn further abuses in Darfur and a surge in violence in South Kordofan,” where Haroun is now governor.
“It’s long past time for Security Council members to speak forcefully on Sudan’s obligation to cooperate with the ICC,” Dicker said.
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was jailed by the International Criminal Court for 50 years last week for helping rebels in Sierra Leone commit what a court in The Hague called some of the worst war crimes in history.
Taylor, 64, was the first head of state convicted by an international court since the trials of Nazis after World War Two, and the sentence set a precedent for the emerging system of international justice.
The court will soon start the trial of Ivory Coast’s ex-president, Laurent Gbagbo.
Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gary Hill