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International | The International Criminal Court has called for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

Less than one day after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir danced, sang, and mocked the International Criminal Court (ICC) at a public event in northern Sudan, the court lowered a long-expected boom on him: A three-judge panel at The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for war crimes against civilians in the country's western region of Darfur.

A few hours later, John Prendergast, founder of the anti-genocide Enough Project, praised the court's indictment, saying the judges drew "a bright and direct line" from the horrors of Darfur to the presidential palace in the capital city of Khartoum.

Bashir faces five counts of crimes against humanity, including orchestrating murder, rape, and torture in vicious campaigns against civilians in Darfur. More than 300,000 people have died and as many as 3 million have fled their homes in the region since militia-led attacks began in 2003. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo says as many as 5,000 people are still dying each month in atrocious conditions in Darfur.

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The indictment excluded one charge some international observers expected: genocide. The court panel said prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to prove Bashir intended to exterminate whole ethnic groups.

Some residents of Darfur disagree. Prendergast told reporters that he has traveled to Darfur eight times in the last five years, and said he hears a recurring theme from Sudanese refugees languishing in displacement camps: "How can you have peace when the president of Sudan has tried to exterminate us?"

Bashir's indictment comes one day after Christian relief leader Franklin Graham penned an op-ed piece in The New York Times opposing the arrest warrant. Graham said arresting Bashir could create chaos and compromise a precarious 2005 north-south peace agreement affecting scores of civilians in the south.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, once an enemy of Bashir's, also opposed the indictment in January, saying: "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?"

But Enough Project's Prendergast said the suffering civilians he spoke to in Darfur don't see tensions between peace and justice: "They feel it would be impossible to have peace without justice."

For now, justice may have to wait. Bashir defiantly denies the court's charges, and his government doesn't recognize the court's jurisdiction in Sudan. Officials in Sudan's ruling party said they would plan a "million-man march" in Khartoum on Thursday to protest the warrant.

That means arresting Bashir could prove difficult since his own government says it will protect him. If Bashir travels to another African nation, leaders could turn him over to the court, though that possibility seems unlikely. Chief prosecutor Ocampo said if Bashir's plane travels into international airspace, outside forces could intercept and arrest him, though that may be a far-fetched option, as well.

Either way, Moreno is content to wait. "Bashir's destiny is to face justice," he said. "It could take two months or two years, but he will face justice."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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