Tension is mounting in Sudan on Tuesday, the eve of the expected announcement of an arrest warrant for the country's president, Omar al-Bashir. The International Criminal Court (ICC) may announce a warrant for Bashir as early as Wednesday, demanding the president's arrest for war crimes against his own people in the country's languishing western region of Darfur.
The charges against Bashir include orchestrating campaigns of murder, torture, rape, and forced displacement. More than 300,000 people have died, and as many as 3 million have fled their homes in Darfur since militia attacks began in February 2003.
ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo said he has more than 30 witnesses prepared to testify against Bashir at The Hague. The charges against Bashir would also include genocide, said Ocampo: "The intention was to exterminate three ethnic groups and that is why it is genocide according to our view."
A panel of court judges will decide whether they will indict Bashir, but resistance to an arrest warrant comes from at least one surprising corner: Christian relief leader Franklin Graham. The president of Samaritan's Purse told WORLD in January he thought arresting Bashir would worsen conditions in Sudan, saying, "The Islamic fundamentalists coming behind him may be worse."
Graham reiterated that position Tuesday in a New York Times opinion piece, saying Bashir's arrest could create chaos and compromise a 2005 peace deal between Bashir's Khartoum-based northern government and the government of South Sudan.
The evangelical leader acknowledged the destruction and havoc of Bashir's regime, noting that the president's forces bombed a Samaritan's Purse hospital in the southern Sudanese town of Lui nine times. But Graham says Bashir has been willing to engage the relief group and allowed Samaritan's Purse to rebuild hundreds of churches bombed by Bashir's forces. "Mr. Bashir is rightly accused of great cruelty and destruction," wrote Graham. "But I have been able to deal with him."
Dealing with Khartoum may grow treacherous for relief groups and government officials if Bashir is indicted said Graham: "Justice without peace would be a hollow victory."
Graham isn't alone. Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, said in January that he also opposes Bashir's arrest: "The problem we have here in South Sudan is what would happen to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement if Bashir is charged by the court? What about the outstanding terms in the peace agreement? Will they be implemented afterwards?"
Sudan expert John Ashworth said he agrees with Graham in principle, but added, "Justice and peace are not mutually exclusive." Ashworth said officials should press for other forms of justice, including restoring victims of violence: "In the age of the sound-bite this may be inconvenient, but I don't think it does any good to keep reinforcing this artificial justice-peace dichotomy."
At least one person doesn't appear worried about the looming arrest: Bashir. The Sudanese president danced and sang before a crowd of thousands gathered for the opening of a dam in northern Sudan Tuesday. He also mocked the ICC indictment, using a common Arabic insult to show extreme disrespect: "They will issue their warrant tomorrow, and we are telling them to immerse it in water and drink it."