Bashir Indictment Opposed by Half of the World

October 28, 2008

By Lenka Andrysova

Nearly half of the countries in the world are demanding that the International Criminal Court postpone prosecution of the Sudanese President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir according to an October story in the Economist. To reach this end, these countries call for the United Nations Security Council to declare that the actual arrest of Mr Bashir is a threat to the peace, breach of peace or an act of aggression as stated in the UN Charter. However, what is at stake if the current situation in the region could not be described as peaceful and stable at all.

What is more, it is President Bashir who has partially contributed to the disastrous state in Sudan. Bearing this in mind, the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged him with most serious crimes. Mr Bashir is facing the accusation of committing the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, which makes his case unprecedented. That is to say, nobody before him stood in front of the ICC wearing a burden of triggering genocide. As a result of his decision, 98 percent of the villages inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people are said to be attacked and destroyed. According to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Sudanese president should be held responsible for internal displacement of 2.7 million Sudanese during five-year conflict, out of which estimated 300,000 lost their lives. Despite these serious claims, 53-member African Union (AU) and 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) stand by him.

These Afro-Arabic organizations representing a remarkable part of the world population suggest that the arrest of the Sudanese leader would undermine the stability in the region. They are right as to that fact, as the removal of Mr Bashir would definitely alter the situation in Sudan, one of the most unstable countries in the entire world, where unfettered warlordism flourishes. Clearly, as Bashir is the top man in his country, his prosecution would fundamentally shatter the Sudanese political pyramid. The Sudan’s president is not only chief of state, but also head of government. He even substitutes for the legislative body, since the Parliament has not been absent since 1999 when Mr Bashir himself dissolved both chambers. Hence, putting the most powerful man in the country into jail would mean that Sudan would lose all the political leadership over night. This would lead, according to heads of member states of the AU and OIC, to a catastrophe.

However, having arrested the Sudanese president, political changes in Khartoum could spark much needed reforms in the country. If Mr Bashir was convicted, the power would be likely transferred into the hands of the existing First Vice President Salva Kiir, who is in favor of independence of the Southern Sudan, or to the Second Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, who would probably initiate some changes, too. As a result, Sudan could start a new era of development with thus far virtually unknown leaders. If the ICC does insist on arresting the Sudanese president, this failed state in the third world could be given a chance for a much desirable change.

The argumentation of the African and Arabic nations which lies in retaining status quo should not convince the UN Council since it also did not take into account that Sudan would soon undergo some changes anyways. By July 2009 Sudanese people are slated to hold elections for their president and representatives. If the choice of new governing elites were to turn democratic, a wind of change would surely blow off the president who seized power during a 1989 military coup.

Similarly, Human Rights Watch, an organization following development of this case since 2001, strongly believes that demands of the AU and OIC are irrelevant. According to their report, a deferral of an ICC investigation risks legitimizing political interference with the work of a judicial institution and could set a dangerous precedent for accused in other situations. Therefore, any exception must be extremely rare, which should be valid for the Sudanese case as well.

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ICTY Case Against Karadzic Moves Forward

October 28, 2008

By Simone Pereira

Much excitement was generated earlier this year when Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb leader was arrested in Belgrade and charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia with war crimes and genocide. Since his arrest in July, Karadzic has pleaded Not Guilty to these charges, and is now claiming that genocide never occurred in Srebrenica. According to Goran Petronijevic, Karadzic’s chief legal advisor, the accused will attempt to show how the killings occurred in response to an escalation of events, rather than being pre-meditated, as the charge of genocide implies. Although his chances of getting acquitted are a long shot, Stephane Bourgon, a lawyer working on Karadzic’s defense, has said that such an argument should not be easily dismissed. Witness bias and the nature of political speech – purposely inflammatory and deterministic – may be argued as coloring the case against Karadzic. However, the prosecution remains positive that the case against Karadzic is strong enough to withstand such frivolous attempts by the defense.

In August Karadzic attempted to court more controversy by requesting former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Richard Holbrooke and former chief war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to appear as defense witnesses in his case. He claims to have struck an agreement with the U.S. State Department in 1996, wherein he agreed to “keep quiet” and “disappear” in exchange for immunity from the current trial. This, he said, was violated when news of the deal surfaced and he was prosecuted by the Tribunal. Holbrooke has vehemently denied the passage of any such deal. Karadzic is using this as another reason for why he believes this entire case against him should be dismissed.

Of his own accord, Karadzic is set to appear as a witness in the re-trial of another Bosnian Serb indicted and convicted of war crimes, Momcilo Krajisnik. Krajisnik, the former President of the Republika Srpsika Parliament, is set to appeal his 2006 conviction by the Hague Tribunal where he was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment for his involvement in the atrocities at Srebrenica (a region of Bosnia). His lawyers are hopeful that Karadzic will provide crucial testimony; evidence which was not available at the time of the original trial because of the latter’s fugitive status.

All these developments display the desperation and fear of Karadzic as the Tribunal proceeds in its case against him. After finally being caught, Karadzic will be held accountable for the events that took place under his leadership. The prosecution is determined in their attempt to bring justice and closure to the many victims and to the international community as a whole, all of whom have been witnesses to the horrors that took place in Srebrenica.


Significant Progress for Court over Summer

October 27, 2008

By Simone Pereira

Summer 2008 proved to be an effective and productive term for the ICC. After thirteen years on the run, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was arrested by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Belgrade on July 18, 2008. A few days earlier, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued an indictment to Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir on war crime charges for the latter’s role in the country’s civil war. Although both cases can arguably be charged as taking too long in the making, it is safe to say that such results go a long way to re-affirming the reasons why a court like the ICC is necessary in today’s world.

Karadzic faces fifteen charges against him, including several counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Along with Ratko Mladic, it is believed that Karadzic orchestrated and planned the persistent attacks against individuals of different national, political and religious bases other than the Serbs. This culminated in the murder of over 8000 people during his four years in office. After the arrest and trial of Slobodan Milosevic, that of Karadzic is the second major arrest of political leaders associated with the breakup of the Former Yugoslav Republic.

It is believed that Karadzic lived for many years within Belgrade itself before finally being captured. His disguise – a full and heavy beard, long hair and some loss of weight – was convincing enough to have fooled authorities during their previous encounters. It is not until the political changeover in government to the more pro-West leadership under Boris Tadic that significant breakthroughs in the case have been achieved. The case now stands before the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia.

In the mean time, chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo has issued an indictment for Omar Al-Bashir’s arrest. Reasons for doing so include Al-Bashir’s apparent attempt to brutally marginalize the three minority groups in Sudan. If the Court’s pre-trial judges approve the indictment, Al-Bashir will be the first sitting president to be charged with crimes against humanity. Not only is this a bold move on the part of the court, but it is also a powerful deterrent to potential offenders against committing such heinous acts.

The indictment against Al-Bashir comes at a time when the ICC’s raison-d’être comes into question. Clearly an action of this nature against an imposing dictator is noticeable and brings to light the plight of the Sudanese people. To date, Al-Bashir’s regime has been responsible for the murders of over 300,000 people, and it is about time they stood accountable for their actions. An intransigent leader like Al-Bashir cannot be allowed to continue in power while his regime stops at nothing to get their way.  Because of the limits of a nation’s sovereignty, foreign states are unable to indict or prosecute leaders of different nations. This is why the ICC, with its largely universal jurisdiction can take charge and adopt those cases which other nations are unable to pick up on. The upcoming months will be key in determining the pace and direction that the court will adopt with respect to both these high-profile cases. With ten years under its belt, the Court now seems to have adopted a more proactive approach against offenders.