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Sudan’s Bashir tries to stall Darfur genocide ruling

The International Criminal Court said Monday that it will decide on March 4 whether to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for charges of crimes against humanity and genocide.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer, Liam StackCorrespondent / February 24, 2009

Support from allies: Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir (second from right) talked with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (l.), upon his arrival to Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday.

Mohamed Nureldin/Reuters

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Johannesburg, South Africa; and Cairo

With an arrest warrant looming over him for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is on a last-minute bid to win friends and influence people.

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In a Sunday visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak – one of the strongest voices in the Arab League – Mr. Bashir explained his concerns about what would happen to his country if the International Criminal Court (ICC) follows through on the chief prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant for Bashir.

The ICC said Monday that it will announce whether to issue the warrant on March 4. Bashir’s backers argue that the ICC’s pursuit of justice is undermining his leadership and the ability to strike a peace deal with Darfur rebels. While Bashir has racked up a broad range of supporters – from members of the African Union to the Arab League to China – his time seems to be running out.

“There is no exit,” says John Prendergast, co-chair of the Enough Project, an Africa advocacy group in Washington. "Of course Bashir is seeking all kinds of political support in order to make the ICC supporters uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, if enough countries downgrade relations [with Sudan] over time because the head of state is an indicted war criminal, the Sudanese ruling party will be thinking very hard about how long it will rally around its leader."

Those of Bashir's party who don't want to see Sudan's legitimacy shrink further "will work for a peaceful change of leadership," Mr. Prendergast adds.

Milosevic, Taylor ... and Bashir?

Like Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian President Charles Taylor before him, Sudan's president is coming up against a relatively new international court system designed to ensure that national leaders and others cannot commit human rights crimes with impunity.

Bashir has a few more tools at his disposal than Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Taylor had, of course, since he is still the sitting leader of his country. But while Bashir may actually have the numbers on his side, with much of the developing world voicing concern that the ICC has overreached its mandate, the ICC is showing no signs of relenting.

"The only alternative the judge can look at is to stagger or to postpone the decision to issue an arrest warrant," says Godfrey Musila, a legal expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, South Africa (formerly known as Pretoria). "What Sudan is doing is trying to get enough diplomatic voices on its side, but the idea is not to affect the decision of whether to issue an arrest warrant or not, but when to do it."

Coming just a week after the Khartoum government signed a "confidence-building" agreement to start talks with the key Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, at a meeting in Doha, Qatar, Bashir's diplomatic roadshow is a clear last-minute dash to stall the inevitable.

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