In the view of the International Criminal Court, Sudan President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir has committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide specifically against the people of Darfur in the northwest region of his benighted country. And now, chief ICC prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo says, the president must be brought to justice.

Predictably perhaps, al-Bashir and his supporters deny the accusations and have launched a blustery counter-offensive, the gist of which is that the ICC is working at the behest of imperial, neo-colonial powers—read: white and Christian — to deliberately meddle in the affairs of yet another black, African state, which in this case happens to be Muslim.


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at a press conference in Khartoum in 2006. ((Abd Raouf/Associated Press))

Already, at least one Islamic state, Yemen, has picked up on al-Bashir's attempt to frame the issue as part of a global anti-Muslim campaign.

In a public statement, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has echoed al-Bashir's remarks condemning the ICC for interfering in Sudan's internal affairs. Saleh even suggests that the international court is participating in another legal double standard foisted by western powers: "The ICC knows exactly who commits violations to human rights, that double standards in similar cases against poor or small countries are not acceptable and does not serve peace and justice in the world."

That may be, but the ICC is not the United Nations, it is not 'the West', and it is not beholden to anyone other than its constituent members.

A fine distinction

Granted, Moreno-Ocampo's accusations against the Sudanese president are the result of an investigation begun in 2005 when the UN Security Council passed a resolution that authorized the ICC to investigate possible war crimes in Darfur.


A view of Sudan's Darfur region.

But the ICC was not ordered by the Security Council to take up its investigation, it was asked to do so. That it accepted the request should be seen as a decision taken by a wholly independent court. It is an important distinction.

In the intervening years, the prosecutor's efforts have resulted in the indictment of two individuals, a top ranking Sudanese rebel leader and a senior member of al-Bashir's government.

While Sudan does not accept the ICC's jurisdiction, it is a member of the UN and as such has agreed to abide by that organization's rules and remedies. Another important distinction.

But despite being ordered by the UN to cooperate with the court, Sudan has refused to comply with a request to hand over the suspects.

Arrest warrant

So far, the ICC prosecutor's accusations are just that, accusations. Over the coming weeks, ICC judges will decide whether to issue an arrest warrant against al-Bashir.

Critics of the ICC, both inside and outside of Sudan, say that should the court go ahead and indict him, the situation in Darfur will worsen and perhaps even the brutal north-south civil war that ended only three years ago will itself be re-kindled.

After years of war and starvation, it is hard to imagine life could get any worse for the people of Darfur. But should he choose, al-Bashir could probably ensure that it did.

What's more, his anger may not stop at those in the Darfur refugee camps. Already UN personnel are on high alert, in case al-Bashir's supporters decide to take out their frustration on that other symbol of western domination — aid and development workers.

Even the African Union, which together with the UN is mounting what is to meant to be the largest peacekeeping mission in history, warns that its work may be irreparably undermined if the ICC goes ahead and issues an arrest warrant for al-Bashir.

What will China do?

Moreno-Ocampo is no stranger to the difficulties of bringing those who think they are above the law to trial. As a trial lawyer in Argentina, the 56-year-old prosecutor was relentless in his efforts to successfully prosecute some of that country's former military leaders for their part in the massacre of hundreds of civilians throughout the 70s and 80s.

"We prosecuted the generals who ordered the disappearances," Moreno-Ocampo stated in one interview. "We put them on trial for human rights abuses and made them face their accusers." With al-Bashir, the legal arena may be different, but Moreno-Ocampo is clearly hoping the outcome will be much the same.

Under Article 13 of the Rome Statute, in effect the ICC's constitution, a matter referred to the court by the Security Council can be suspended if the Council so requests. Sudan is currently working to ensure such a request is issued, by calling once again on its allies at the UN, notably Russia and China.

Russia and China also do not recognize the ICC. Together, these two nations have not only supplied al-Bashir with the weapons needed to carry out his nasty adventures, but in the past five years they have consistently exercised their veto on the Security Council to prevent the international community from taking any serious action against Sudan on behalf of the people of Darfur.

China is hooked on Sudan's oil. Russia is upset at the west's expansion into what it perceives as its traditional territory. Neither nation is motivated to do the right thing.

The world's prosecutor

Still, the fact that this time it's the ICC that is going after Sudan's president may leave his buddies at the UN unable to fully shield him from prosecution. When Moreno-Ocampo speaks, he speaks not only for the ICC, but also for all of the 139 nations that have signed onto the Rome Statute.

China and Russia do not share the view that the world needs an international criminal court. But at least 30 African nations do, including fifteen Islamic states.

They are among the more than 100 nations who have openly and voluntarily ratified the Rome Statute by making its legal provisions part of their own domestic law. They have committed themselves, in other words, legally and morally, to support the court's decisions.

Al-Bashir's attempts to turn his own travails into an us-versus-them issue may buy him some time.

But now he is going up against an international court designed to work — for the most part — outside of the politics of the United Nations. A court whose express purpose is to prosecute those who commit the most heinous of crimes. That fact in itself is an important distinction that should make Sudan's big-power supporters think twice.