What had been rumoured for days has finally been confirmed. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday charged Sudanâ€™s president with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said 35,000 people had been killed in attacks by Sudanâ€™s armed forces and the Janjaweed militia they support, while 2.5 million others were subjected to a campaign of â€œrape, hunger and fearâ€ in refugee camps.
â€œThe decision to start the genocide was taken by Bashir personally. Bashir is executing this genocide without gas chambers, without bullets, without machetes. It is genocide by attrition,â€ Ocampo told a news conference in The Hague.
â€œProsecution evidence shows that Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups on account of their ethnicity.â€
The three-judge panel must now decide whether there are reasonable grounds for an arrest warrant to be issued. This may take several weeks or months. Sudan looks set to seek support from its allies at the UN to help block any warrant.
Sudanâ€™s government has already said it is in informal talks with China and Russia over tabling a UN Security Council resolution to suspend the warrant for 12 months, which is renewable.
Khartoum, which is not a party to the court, said it did not recognise the ICC statement and that any indictment would be meaningless.
â€œWe consider the indictment of either the president or any other normal citizen of Sudan the same - we donâ€™t recognise whatever comes out from the ICC, to us it is non-existent,â€ Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig told Reuters news agency.
The country has refused to hand over two suspects who Moreno-Ocampo charged last year, humanitarian affairs minister Ahmad Harun and militia leader Ali Kushayb.
It has also labelled Moreno-Ocampo a criminal, and warned that any indictment could stall peace talks and cause mayhem in Sudan.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Bashir on Saturday and stressed the independence of the ICC. He said he expected Sudan to â€œensure the safety and security of all UN personnel and propertyâ€ there despite the allegations.
The White House urged all parties in Sudan to â€œremain calmâ€, saying it would â€œmonitor the situationâ€ in The Hague.
US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe stressed that the US was not part of the ICC.
The UN estimates that some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes.
Sudanâ€™s government is accused of mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur, after rebels took up arms in 2003, charges it denies.
In a statement, Moreno-Ocampoâ€™s office said he had submitted a report which concluded that there were â€œreasonable grounds to believe that Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir bears criminal responsibility in relation to 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimesâ€.
Moreno-Ocampo said evidence showed that the president â€œmasterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicityâ€ when they rebelled against the government.
â€œHis motives were largely political. His alibi was a â€˜counterinsurgencyâ€™. His intent was genocide,â€ he said.
The prosecutor said pro-government militias, on Bashirâ€™s orders, attacked and destroyed villages from the three groups, then pursued survivors into the desert. Those who reached the camps for the displaced people were subjected to conditions calculated to bring about their destruction, he added, with the president obstructing international assistance and ordering his forces to surround them.
â€œIn the camps Bashirâ€™s forces kill the men and rape the women,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t have the luxury to look away. I have evidence.â€
Moreno-Ocampo said the president had prevented the truth about the crimes from being revealed and â€œpromoted and provided impunity to his subordinates in order to secure their willingness to commit genocideâ€.
â€œBashir is the president. He is the commander in chief. Those are not just formal words. He used the whole state apparatus, he used the army, he enrolled the militia/Janjaweed. They all report to him, they all obey him. His control is absolute,â€ he added.
On Sunday, thousands of people rallied in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to show their support for Bashir and to denounce the anticipated charges.
Sudanâ€™s represent said Nations told the BBC that any charges against Bashir would be disastrous for the security and stability of Sudan.
â€œWe condemn in the strongest possible terms this move by this criminal Ocampo,â€ said Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad.
The ruling National Congress party meanwhile warned of â€œmore violence and bloodâ€ in Darfur. Bashir said he had been angered by talk of his possible arrest, but added that it made him more determined to push for peace.
â€œWe are committed to remove the country from a crisis,â€ he told state radio.
But a leader of one of the factions of the Sudan Liberation Army rebels told the BBC it would welcome any action by the ICC.
â€œThe regime in Khartoum committed a big crime. We think the ICC is going the right way,â€ Abdul Khalil said.
Earlier, a UN spokeswoman said it had already raised the security alert level for its staff in Darfur. The joint United Nations-African Union Mission, which has 9,000 troops, has been struggling to contain the violence.
It has raised the security alert for its staff to "level fourâ€, which stops short of evacuating all staff, but relocates foreign workers who are not directly involved in relief or security operations.
John Oâ€™Shea, director of Irish aid agency Goal, warned the Sudanese government not to seek revenge against international aid agencies and peacekeepers.
The ICC was set up in 2002 as the worldâ€™s first permanent war crimes court. It is also investigating crimes in northern Uganda, the Central African Republic and the DRC. But it has no Police force and it only has four suspects in custody.
The new Darfur case could embarrass China, Khartoumâ€™s biggest arms supplier and a major investor in its oil industry, just weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympics.
China declined to comment on the charges.
Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on the issue on saturday, a senior Arab League officials.
-Killing members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa
- Causing these groups serious
bodily or mental harm
- Inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about these groupsâ€™ physical destruction
Crimes against humanity:
-Attacks on civilians in Darfur
- Pillaging towns and villages
Bashir wanted for genocide