International Criminal Court “working to protect African victims”

The Sudanese authorities moved to expel international humanitarian organisations from the country on Wednesday in response to the decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for the country’s President, Omar al Bashir. As they did so, the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo rejected criticism of the court’s apparent focus on Africa in an interview for Amnesty International’s website.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said that he was working to protect African victims. He said that Wednesday’s decision to issue a warrant for President al Bashir should give the people of Africa hope. He added that the most important aspect of the ICC’s decision is that the arrest warrant covers crimes committed on a daily basis in Sudan’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.

“In the camps, people are dying slowly. 2.5 million people dying slowly; 5,000 people dying each month and the world is ignoring that. These people need to be recognised, the crimes have to be recognised, because right now, when you read the news, they talk about what happened in 2004, not what happens today. And the court is stopping the denial and saying, this happened today and the leader of the country is involved in the crimes.”

He also pointed to the cases before the ICC he is working on with the presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR). These cases include:

The prosecution of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, alleged founder and leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), in relation to child soldiers in DRC
Arrest warrants against five senior leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in relation to crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Uganda
An investigation into crimes, including killings, rape and sexual violence and looting committed in 2002 and 2003 in the CAR

“The Court has to work in the world, because one case in the Court reverberates in the world. The Lubanga case on child soldiers has impact in Colombia and in Sri Lanka. This court is not just a system to punishment, it establishes the law. So, one case in the court makes the reality in the world.”

African leaders have been critical of the ICC’s actions in relation to Sudan, with the African Union warning that issuing the arrest warrant would destabilise the country’s peace process. South African Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, however, accused Africa’s leaders of behaving shamefully.

“Are they on the side of the victim or the oppressor?” Tutu asked in a column in The New York Times. “Rather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard.”

Mr Moreno-Ocampo explained the ICC’s criteria to select cases which depend on the gravity of the crimes and a lack of national proceedings. He said that he’s monitoring the situation in other countries where there have been serious crimes, but national proceedings are underway.

“I’m doing that in Colombia, in Georgia, in Afghanistan, in Cote d’Ivoire, in Kenya. Maybe I open an investigation, maybe not. In Venezuela, I did not open an investigation, in Central African Republic, I opened an investigation – it depends.”

In relation to the arrest warrant on President al Bashir, Mr Moreno-Ocampo said that the ICC’s work on Sudan is not at an end. He said they now have to ensure that the Sudanese President is arrested and that the crimes come to an end, adding that the Sudanese authorities have the responsibility of handing the President over to the court.

“Sudan is not a failed state, they have a responsibility. They have to respect international law; they have to respect Security Council resolutions. Sudan is an old civilisation, a sophisticated country. They have to do it. If not, the Security Council has to take measures to ensure compliance with its own resolutions.”

If, as now appears likely, no action is taken in Sudan to enforce the warrant, Mr Moreno-Ocampo said that there are other places President al Bashir could be arrested. Authorities in any country he visits would have the responsibility to act. However, he also identified another possibility.

“As soon as Mr al Bashir travels through the international air space, he can be arrested. His plane can be intercepted and arrested.”

Mr Moreno-Ocampo welcomed the support from Amnesty International and many other global non-governmental organisations for the ICC and continuing campaigns urging all countries to sign up and implement the Rome Statute.

“A global system of governance without a global government requires rules and rules to be respected requires judges, but also requires citizens. Amnesty is a very active and global citizen. That is, for me, so crucial, about Amnesty’s work.

“The global community is not just about nationality, it’s about values and that is why Amnesty International is such an important institution for us. They are a group of people from all over the world sharing the same values, values that are in agreement with the ICC mandate. That’s why it’s so important.”