The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court announced his intent to ask for an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, which the United Nations worries may prompt a violent response by the Sudanese government against peacekeepers stationed there.
The Washington Post reports that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will put forth his case against Mr. Bashir on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity on Monday. The Post writes that Mr. Moreno-Ocampo's action would be "first time that the tribunal in The Hague charges a sitting head of state with such crimes, and represents a major step by the court to implicate the highest levels of the Sudanese government for the atrocities in Darfur."
The Post notes that Moreno-Ocampo has sought arrest warrants for 11 people while serving as a prosecutor for the ICC, and the ICC's pretrial court has yet to refuse one of his requests.
The news of Moreno-Ocampo's impending request has put the UN on edge, reports The Times of London, as it could prompt a violent response from Bashir's regime, which "has repeatedly threatened retaliation for charges being levelled against its leader after the slaughter in Darfur was referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council in March 2005."
The Times adds that Abdalmahmood Mohamad, Sudan's ambassador to the UN, warned that charging Bashir would be "playing with fire," and that "All options are open," should Moreno-Ocampo move ahead.
The Los Angeles Times writes that the peacekeepers have already come under attack several times, most recently on Tuesday, when gunmen killed seven people and injured 20 more. Sudan blamed the attack on rebels, though UN officials say they suspect the attackers had ties to the Sudanese government. The peacekeepers are preparing for the possibility of new attacks Monday, after Moreno-Ocampo makes his case officially.
Experts believe that Bashir already is on his heels and that formal charges could provoke a violent reaction. The Guardian cites Alex de Waal of the Social Science Research Council in New York, who says that Bashir is "obsessed with the idea that the world is out to get him," and "already feels he has been humiliated and made to look weak." Meanwhile, Sudan expert Juliet Flint told the BBC that a recent rebel attack near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum had embarrassed Bashir, and warned that "A wounded animal would strike back."
And although the Chinese diplomats said that the Olympic Games, which China hosts next summer, are not a factor in the nation's consideration of the Bashir charges, Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University in Beijing, said that "China may now find it much harder to influence Sudan, but international public opinion will become excited over this and expect much (from China), especially before the Games."
Nonetheless, The Washington Post reports that some have welcomed Moreno-Ocampo's decision and believe that formal charges will help the situation in Sudan, rather than exacerbate it.
ICC advocates contend that such court actions contribute to peace efforts. Previous indictments of world leaders -- such as former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and former Liberian president Charles Taylor -- by other U.N. tribunals have ultimately contributed to stability in those countries, said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice office at Human Rights Watch.
"I would never belittle the potential dangers" of such international prosecutions, Dicker said. "It is the prosecutor's job, however, to follow the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of the people in high positions, he investigates. . . . Will it be controversial? You bet. What is at stake here is limiting the impunity of those associated with these horrific events in Darfur since 2003."
But Mr. Dicker also told the Los Angeles Times that "If genocide is the charge that the ICC prosecutor is pursuing, he has set himself a high hurdle to get over."