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ICC Prosecutor Makes Case Against Sudan’s President

September 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, discusses his view on war crimes charges levied against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court makes his case against the president of Sudan.

Jeffrey Brown reports.

JEFFREY BROWN: Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, sat down for an interview last month, a collaboration between the NewsHour and TIME magazine. It was Bashir’s first major U.S. media appearance since being indicted last March for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or the ICC.

The charges stem from Bashir’s alleged role in the six-year conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan between pro-government troops and mostly non-Arab rebels. The U.N. estimates the death toll at up to 300,000, with more than 2.5 million people displaced.

But, in the interview, the Sudanese leader put the death toll at about 10,000. He also argued that the court issuing his arrest warrant, which was the first for a sitting head of state, was just a — quote — “political court, not a court of justice.”

OMAR AL-BASHIR, president, Sudan: We think that the ICC is a tool to terrorize countries that the West thinks are disobedient. The African position today, by consensus, is not to cooperate with this court. And it has reached a conclusion that this court is directed against the countries of the Third World and a tool of neocolonialism.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Bashir is technically barred from international travel, but has visited Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia, among other countries.

OMAR AL-BASHIR: Up until now, I haven’t felt restrictions on my movement. It’s not necessary for a president to travel to every country. But I have made all necessary travels.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the interview, President Bashir also accused the International Court of a double standard.

OMAR AL-BASHIR: You will find in all the world’s countries that militants who take up arms against a government are classified as terrorists. Even those who resist occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are classified today as terrorists, except in Sudan. When some people take up arms, it’s the government that’s guilty.

The case against Bashir

Luis Moreno-Ocampo
ICC Prosecutor
I hope the appeal chamber will accept my position and, in addition, President Bashir will be charged with additional three charges of genocide.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, even as the court tries to move forward with its case, the top U.N. military commander in Sudan declared, the Darfur region is no longer in a state of war.

Two weeks ago, General Martin Luther Agwai said: "What you have is security issues more now, banditry. But real war as such, I think we are over that."

Sudan holds national elections in April. If he stands, President Bashir will be seeking a third decade in power.

And joining us now from the United Nations in New York is Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Well, thank you for joining us.

I want to walk through some of the statements made by President Bashir in that interview. First, he essentially charges you with producing a political indictment, not one that belongs in a court of justice. By way of responding, help us understand how you built your case.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: President Bashir has to come to court to make his defense.

I present my case in course. I present my evidence in front of the judges. And the judges issue an arrest warrant against President Bashir for five crimes against humanity and two war crimes. I appeal because they did not retain three genocide charges. So, I hope the appeal chamber will accept my position and, in addition, President Bashir will be charged with additional three charges of genocide.

The case is very simple. There was a rebellion in Darfur, and President Bashir decided that the tribes in the area -- and some of the rebels belonged to these tribes -- are -- are also to have been removed and eliminated.

So, the plan was not just attack the combatants. It was attack the civilians. And that was the concept. The minister of defense of President Bashir say to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry as soon as there's one rebel in the city, the city became a military target.

And that is what for two years President Bashir did. His army and militias that he recruits surround little villages, attack the people, the civilians, attack women and children, and kill, rape and torture, and force the displacement of four million people.

JEFFREY BROWN: And he continued...

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: And that's...

JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, excuse me.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: No.

'Scorched earth' policy

Luis Moreno-Ocampo
ICC Prosecutor
I have clear evidence showing this military operation was conducted for two years, but for thousands of soldiers. And he, al-Bashir personally gave the orders. He gave the orders: I don't like prisoners I just want scorched earth, he say.

JEFFREY BROWN: No, well, I was -- he continued -- in that interview, he continued, as he has said before, that -- to say that the mistakes on the ground cannot be blamed on him or on the leadership. He cited what he saw as a double standard in how Sudan is being treated, as opposed to other places in the world.

How do you respond to those?

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: I only -- I would respond to him in court.

I have clear evidence showing this military operation was conducted for two years, but for thousands of soldiers. And he, al-Bashir personally gave the orders. He gave the orders: I don't like prisoners I just want scorched earth, he say.

And then, for two years, thousands of soldiers, thousands of militia Janjaweed incorporated with the army attack millions of people in the -- of civilians in the cities. And this was his order. And I have evidence of his orders.

And then the second phase is happening today, because that's what people is ignoring. Today, there are still an armed conflict with the rebels group, but most of the people of these village were displaced.

And 2.5 million people live in camps for displaced persons inside Darfur. And what's happened today, they are not killed using bullets. Rapes and hunger are the weapons of this new, more subtle way to commit the crimes against them.

So, people is ignoring because they are still there, and al-Bashir forces are blocking and hindering humanitarian assistance. This is also a way to commit a genocide, creating conditions to destroy these people. That is 6-C -- 6-B in the Rome Statute. It's a different form to commit genocide.

But because it is less -- is more subtle, we're ignoring it. And that's why, as a prosecutor, I cannot ignore it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Why -- why...

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: This...

JEFFREY BROWN: Excuse me.

I wanted to ask you why the indictment -- why do you think this has been so hard to enforce? As he said in that interview, he has been able to travel so far. He hasn't felt any restrictions on his movements. What's going on?

'The victims cannot wait'

Luis Moreno-Ocampo
ICC Prosecutor
Those women raped each day, for them, time is crucial. They will die. So, that is the urgency.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: Arresting a head of state is a complex process. It took one-year-and-a-half to arrest President Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia and more than two years to arrest President Taylor.

Even in this country, in U.S., in a different case, after the indictment of Richard Nixon -- the process of Richard Nixon took -- took years. And -- but, at the end of the day, the destiny of President Bashir will be to face justice.

I have strong evidence I will have present in court. But the court can wait two years or 20 years. The issue is, the victims cannot wait. Those people in this place can't. Those women raped each day, for them, time is crucial. They will die. So, that is the urgency.

President al-Bashir should be arrested. Today, he's a fugitive president. He's desperate, trying to make this desperate effort to show he's traveling. But he's going nowhere. He's going to no country who is a Rome Statute member. So, the country where he's going has no duty to arrest him.

He tried to enter South Africa. South Africa informed him he would be arrested. Uganda. He cannot travel around the world. He can just travel only to a few countries.

So, at the end of the day, he will be arrested. Again, the priority here today is to stop his crimes. These people living in the camps are suffering a crime today.

Pursuing additional prosecutions

Luis Moreno-Ocampo
ICC Prosecutor
We have a case against the rebel commanders. We also prosecute rebel groups. And one of the leaders of the rebel group who commit the worst attack against the peacekeepers appeared before the court.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you feel, though, that you're getting enough support from the United States and other countries?

I wonder if you feel like you're caught in some tension now between seeking justice for what's happened in Darfur and some attempts, some talk that's been out there about trying to find a political opening with Sudan. As you know, I'm sure, the U.S. is now reviewing its policy towards Sudan.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: As I say, the arrest warrant will be implemented in two years or in 20 years. The issue, to stop the crimes.

When I present my case, people were saying, oh, this will stop any possible negotiation.

It's not true. When we started, there was no peace negotiation. In June 2008, negotiators resigned because they can do nothing. After I request the warrant, a new process started, and it's still ongoing.

So, there are two parallel tracks. Arresting President Bashir is one track. Making -- stopping the crimes and making a settlement for these people is a different track, very important.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, what -- what -- what is the next step for you while you're -- while this is all going on? What are you able to do? Are you continuing to build your case?

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: We have this case against the president, Bashir, and Minister Haroun, and Ali Kushayb, a militia leader, joined the state.

But, also, we have a case against the rebel commanders. We also prosecute rebel groups. And one of the leaders of the rebel group who commit the worst attack against the peacekeepers appeared before the court. And the confirmation hearing is scheduled for October. So, we're working very -- we're very busy working on the confirmation hearing for this -- for Mr. Abu Garda, the leader of one of the rebel groups. So, we're working on Darfur, and we will keep working on Darfur.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court, thank you very much.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: You can watch that earlier interview with Sudan President al-Bashir at our Web site, NewsHour.PBS.org.