ICC Prosecutor: Stronger Commitment Needed to Arrest Bashir

Outgoing International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo called on the United Nations Security Council to expedite the arrest of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir yesterday.  The United Nations does not have an independent body capable of making the arrest, but they can pressure neighboring states to arrest Bashir if given the opportunity.  Bashir currently faces two arrest warrants for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in the Darfur conflict that killed an estimated 300,000 people.  His role in the conflict is nearly undeniable, but ICC member states are reluctant to make an arrest because of economic and military geopolitics.

The chief prosecutor's call to action obviously did not sit well with the Sudan's representative to the United Nations Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman.  He claims that Moreno-Ocampo is "ignoring the U.N. Charter" by pursuing the arrest warrant against Bashir and other Sudanese officials.  At the end of the Security Council session, he went further by calling the chief prosecutor's plea the "statement of a terrorist."  However, Moreno-Ocampo countered by saying that the representative's unwillingness to cooperate could implicate him in the crimes as well.  

The recent attention by Moreno-Ocampo is most likely fueled by three primary factors.  First, the court convicted ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor last month, the first major conviction of a national leader since the Nuremberg trials.  It was a landmark decision that is widely seen as a victory for international justice despite more than nine years between the issuance of a warrant and the conviction.  Second, Moreno-Ocampo's term that began in 2003 expires on June 16th.  He could be pressuring the Security Council in a last-ditch effort to arrest Bashir who remains the only person charged with genocide and the first head of state to be indicted by the ICC.  Third, is Sudan's worsening situation on the ground in South Kordofan particularly in the Nuba Mountains.  For months, Bashir's forces have carried out bombing campaigns and denied access to humanitarian relief groups along the southern border.  While Bashir's ICC charges are related to crimes in the Darfur conflict, his capture would also impact current violence.

There is a precedent for ICC member states not arresting Bashir when given the opportunity.  Kenya, Chad, and Djibouti all failed to arrest him after the warrant's issuance, but the most well-known case is Malawi's hosting of Bashir at a 2011 regional trade summit because of a "brotherly coexistence."  However, Joyce Banda, the current president, announced this week that Bashir would be arrested if he attends next month's African Union summit. Kenya also reversed their decision over a year after the Bashir visit.  This marks an important policy shift and eliminates two of Bashir's partners in a major trade network called the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Moreno-Ocampo's plea comes as the tenth anniversary of the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, approaches on July 1.  The UN Security Council should heed the prosecutor's remarks and urge regional partners to arrest Bashir if given the opportunity.  The recent convictions of Thomas Lubanga and Charles Taylor gave the ICC needed attention and confidence.  The United Nations Security Council can follow-up on these successes by highlighting Malawi's reversal and pressuring other African states to have the same commitment to international justice.  

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