July 14, 2010 (WASHINGTIN) — The U.S. president Barack Obama said today that peace in Sudan cannot be realized without justice while acknowledging the need to move carefully, a day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir for orchestrating genocide in the Darfur region.
The genocide charge followed an arrest warrant issued by the Hague-based court against Bashir in March 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict. He is alleged to have targeted the African ethnic tribes of Fur, Zaghawa and Masaalit.
Khartoum has dismissed the latest arrest warrant, accusing the ICC of being part of a Western conspiracy trying to destabilize the country and stall development as well as peace talks with the rebels in Darfur. The Sudanese government says its position is supported by Arab, African and Islamic countries.
Bashir is the first sitting head of state indicted by the ICC.
Obama, when asked to comment on the recent move by ICC, said his administration supports accountability for crimes committed in Darfur.
"Well, my view is that the ICC has put forward an arrest warrant. We think that it is important for the government of Sudan to cooperate with the ICC. We think that it is also important that people are held accountable for the actions that took place in Darfur that resulted in, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of lives being lost" he said in an interview released today with South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
"[T]here has to be accountability, there has to be transparency," he added.
This is the first time Obama speaks on the ICC role in the Darfur seven years conflict. The former Bush’s administration allowed the UN Security Council (UNSC) to refer the case to the tribunal after relentless objections and threatening to veto for fear that it will signal a recognition of the court.
Washington withdrew its signature from the ICC’s founding treaty saying it is wary about exposing U.S. troops to possible politically motivated prosecution while fighting in unpopular wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Obama administration however, has started to cautiously re-engage with the court, which was set up in 2002 and has been ratified by 111 states, but not by the United States, Russia, China or India.
The U.S. president suggested that his administration is treading carefully to ensure that the political process in Sudan does not collapse.
"Obviously we are active in trying to make sure that Sudan is stabilized; that humanitarian aid continues to go in there; that efforts with respect to a referendum and the possibility of Southern Sudan gaining independence under the agreement that was brokered, that that moves forward" Obama said.
"So it is a balance that has to be struck. We want to move forward in a constructive fashion in Sudan, but we also think that there has to be accountability, and so we are fully supportive of the ICC" he added.
Obama stressed that "peace is at risk if there’s no transparency and accountability of the actions that are taking place, whether it’s in Sudan or anywhere else in the world".
The statements by Obama contradicts that of his special envoy Scott Gration who has expressed dissatisfaction with the genocide decision saying it will complicate his mission and emphasizing that the key to resolving the conflicts in the South and Darfur as well as combating terrorism lies with Bashir.
Both the State Department and White House issued statements urging Sudan to cooperate with the court and for Bashir to submit himself to the ICC.
Four U.S. based human rights advocacy organizations - the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, Genocide Intervention Network, the Save Darfur Coalition, and the American Jewish World Service issued a joint statement on Monday lauding the genocide charge and calling on Obama to ensure his arrest through working with the international community.
But a Sudanese official today dismissed calls by the U.S. to cooperate with the ICC.
"The U.S. must hand its leaders to justice and if they were serious on achieving justice and protect civilians , we would have found such a clear position on what happened to the freedom flotilla in Gaza, and it is them who used veto to reject international investigation to achieve justice" said Sudanese presidential adviser Mustafa Ismail.
Ismail further said that "Africa and the countries of the world look at the ICC a Western institution established in the West and funded by the European Union and aimed at punishing the governments and leaders who are not moving with the Western axis and not owe them allegiance, and obedience".