CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Senior Arab diplomats will try and forge a united response to the genocide charges brought against Sudan’s president for his government’s actions in Darfur.
A large Sudanese delegation was in Cairo on Friday to prepare for a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers. The gathering on Saturday was called to discuss the 10 charges filed by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court against President Omar al-Bashir.
The charges are for what the U.N. has described as a campaign of extermination against three Darfur tribes that it says has claimed 300,000 lives and driven 2.5 million people from their homes. A three-judge panel from the court, or ICC, is expected to take two to three months to decide on an arrest warrant.
The 22-nation league is loathe to see what it regards as the humiliation of an Arab leader, particularly by a court that some accuse of acting at the behest of the United States, which does not even recognize the tribunal.
Some observers have said the unprecedented charges against a governing head of state by an international court has sown fear among other Arab leaders that they could suffer the same fate. At an Arab summit in March, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi poured contempt on fellow Arab leaders for largely keeping silent on Saddam Hussein’s humiliating execution and warned the same thing could happen to them.
Only three Arab League states are signatories to the ICC, which was founded in 2002, Jordan, Djibouti and Comoros. Under the court’s treaty they are obliged to execute any arrest warrant that may be issued against the Sudanese president.
Many Arab countries have already reacted strongly to the court action, some voicing dismay that, as they see it, the court is being used to humiliate an Arab leader. “Sudan already has too many problems. New ones will only further complicate the situation and neither peace will be achieved nor justice will be done,” said Lebanese columnist Abdel Wahab Badrkhan in an interview. But despite the strong anti-ICC sentiment in the Arab media, key regional powerhouses such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have made no firm commitment to support al-Bashir following the prosecutor’s announcement. That could be an indication that heavyweight Arab governments might be fed up with al-Bashir, who has been ruling the war-stricken African nation for about 20 years.
Among its options, the Arab League is reportedly considering calling on al-Bashir to surrender two other high-level Sudanese officials who have already been indicted by the court. They are former Interior Minister Ahmed Haroun and suspected militia leader Ali Kushayb who were charged last year with war crimes.
In return, the ministers are considering asking the U.N. Security Council, which asked the court to investigate the Darfur conflict, to defer prosecution of al-Bashir for at least a year, Arab diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. That would allow time to build up the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur to its full strength of 26,000. The court’s statutes allow its judges to give provide such leeway. But the Sudanese government on Friday ruled out any deal that would involve handing over Haroun and Kushayb. “There will be no direct cooperation with the International Criminal Court, and the two Sudanese citizens will not be sent to The Hague,” said Mustafa Osman Ismail, an adviser to al-Bashir, according to the official Egyptian news agency, MENA.
The League’s secretary-general, Amr Moussa, said any Arab response would also take into consideration the view that al-Bashir should be out of the court’s reach because Sudan does not recognize its authority.