March 1, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese government on Thursday sought to play down the significance of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges for defence minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein.
- Sudan’s Defence Minister Abdul-Rahim Mohamed Hussein
Last December, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the judges to order the arrest of Hussein saying that he is among those who "bear greatest criminal responsibility" for atrocities in the Sudan’s western region of Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004.
The Pre-Trial Chamber I sad in its decision today that there were sufficient grounds to hold Hussein responsible for 20 counts of crimes against humanity, including persecution and rape, and 21 counts of war crimes, including murder and attacks on civilians.
"The Chamber considers that in his role as Minister of the Interior and Special Representative of the President in Darfur and as an influential member of the Government of the Republic of the Sudan, Mr. Hussein made essential contributions to the formulation and implementation of the common plan, inter alia, through his overall coordination of national, state and local security entities and through the recruitment, arming and funding of the police forces and the Militia/Janjaweed in Darfur" the judges said.
"These crimes were allegedly committed against the primarily Fur populations of the towns of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar, Arawala and surrounding areas by the Sudanese armed forces and the Militia/Janjaweed in the context of a counter-insurgency campaign against the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and other groups opposing the Government. The plan of the counter-insurgency campaign was allegedly formulated at the highest levels of the Government of the Republic of the Sudan and had allegedly as a core component an unlawful attack on that part of the civilian population perceived by the Government as being close to the rebel groups".
"Furthermore the Chamber considers that his arrest appears to be necessary to ensure his appearance at trial and to ensure that he will not obstruct or endanger the investigations".
The government in Khartoum was quick to dismiss the ruling reiterating that Sudan is not a signatory to Rome Statute which is the ICC’s founding treaty.
"We are not concerned with the court and the decisions that come out of it. We, like the United States and Russia, are not signatories to the Rome Statute governing the court," foreign ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Marwih said.
The Sudanese diplomat suggested that the timing was meant to coincide with the "recent victories" of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) against the rebels in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur.
"The court’s decision is more of a message to the rebellion than it is to frustrate the armed forces," Marwih added.
Qutbi al-Mahdi, a prominent figure within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), echoed Marwih’s assertions adding that Ocampo wants to cover up for his failure to get previous warrants issued in connection with the Darfur conflict executed.
"This is a trick that no longer deceives the local and global and public opinion because it is [based on] lies, Al-Mahdi said.
Hussein joins his boss president Omer Hassan al-Bashir, South Kordofan Governor Ahmed Haroun and militia leader Ali Kushayb who are also wanted by the ICC for their presumed role in Darfur war crimes.
Prosecutors also have indicted two rebels for allegedly leading an attack on an African Union peacekeeper compound in Darfur in 2007. Judges dismissed similar charges against another rebel for lack of evidence. All three of the rebels surrendered voluntarily to the Hague-based court.
Human Right Watch (HRW) welcomed the warrant saying it confirms its findings on those believed to be involved in Darfur atrocities.
"Our research shows that Sudanese Defense Minister Hussein appears to have played a key role in Khartoum’s strategy of ’ethnic cleansing’ in Darfur," said Balkees Jarrah, international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.
"The ICC judges’ decision today extends accountability to him for grave abuses, including crimes against humanity" Jarrah added.
Darfur was plunged into turmoil in 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, whom they accused of discrimination.
The Khartoum government is accused of retaliating by unleashing Arab militias on civilians – a charge the government denies. The U.N. estimates 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced in the conflict.
The 60-years old Hussein was an interior minister between 2001-2005 and presidential special representative for Darfur in 2003-2004.
It remains to be seen the extent to which the warrant would curtail Hussein’s travels abroad in a manner similar to the other suspects.
Over the last few years the Sudanese defense minister paid visits to Chad, China, Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Belarus, Jordan, Algeria, Egypt and Qatar. Only Chad and Jordan have a legal obligation to apprehend him after today’s decision.
But several African ICC member states have allowed Bashir to visit without apprehending him.