THE HAGUE, Netherlands The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges Monday against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur with a campaign of murder, rape and deportation.
The filing marked the first time prosecutors at the world's first permanent, global war crimes court have issued charges against a sitting head of state, but al-Bashir is unlikely to be sent to The Hague any time soon. Sudan rejects the court's jurisdiction, and senior Sudanese officials said the prosecutor was politically motivated to file the charges.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked a three-judge panel at the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir to prevent the slow deaths of some 2.5 million people forced from their homes in Darfur and still under attack from government-backed janjaweed militia.
"Genocide is a crime of intention we don't need to wait until these 2.5 million die," he told The Associated Press.
"The genocide is ongoing," he added, saying systematic rape was a key element of the campaign. "Seventy-year-old women, 6-year-old girls are raped," he said.
Moreno-Ocampo was undeterred by concern that his indictment against al-Bashir might ignite a storm of vengeance against Darfur refugees and spur Sudan to shut out relief agencies and possibly peacekeeping troops. Al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party on Sunday warned of "more violence and blood" in the vast western region if an arrest warrant is issued against the president, state TV reported.
"I am a prosecutor doing a judicial case," Moreno-Ocampo said. He filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order al-Bashir's arrest.
Al-Bashir "wants to end the history of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people. I don't have the luxury to look away. I have evidence," the prosecutor said in a statement after submitting his case to the judges.
One victim cited by prosecutors said rapes are woven into the fabric of life in Darfur.
"Maybe around 20 men rape one woman. These things are normal for us here in Darfur," she said. "I have seen rapes too. It does not matter who sees them raping the women they don't care. They rape girls in front of their mothers and fathers."
Moreno-Ocampo said the rapes were producing a generation of so-called "janjaweed babies" and "an explosion of infanticide" by victims.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed, said al-Bashir was weighing all options, including an undefined military response.
Al-Bashir likely will visit the U.N. General Assembly in September and Sudan would consider any attempt to arrest him a declaration of war, Mohamed said.
The head of Sudan's Bar Association and ruling party stalwart, Fathi Khalil told the AP that Sudan was not a member of the International Criminal Court and was not bound by Moreno-Ocampo's decision.
"The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court with his announcement demanding the arrest of President al-Bashir has proved that he is playing a political role, not a legal one," Khalil said.
Khalil said the decision came after international pressure on the court, undermining its reputation and independence. He said neither the ICC nor the U.N. Security Council have the right to refer a country that is not a member to the ICC to the court.
The Sudanese Liberation Movement-Unity, a rebel group in Darfur, offered to help arrest and extradite any war criminals from Sudan.
If judges issue an arrest warrant, they will effectively turn al-Bashir into a prisoner in his own country. In the past, Interpol has issued so-called Red Notices for fugitives wanted by the court, meaning they should be arrested any time they attempt to cross an international border.
In the United States, which is not part of the ICC, American officials said they were examining the indictment.
"We make our own determinations according to our own laws, our own regulations with respect to who should be subject to war crimes, genocide related statutes. The ICC is a separate matter and we are not part of the ICC. All of that said, we certainly stand for accountability," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Moreno-Ocampo said most members of the three targeted ethnic African groups were driven from their homes by Sudanese forces and the janjaweed in 2004. Since then, the janjaweed have been targeting the camps aiming to starve the refugees.
"These 2.5 million people are in camps. They (al-Bashir's forces) don't need gas chambers because the desert will kill them," Moreno-Ocampo said, drawing comparison's with Nazi Germany's most notorious method of mass murder during the Holocaust.
The refugees "have no more water, no more food, no more cattle. They have lost everything. They live because international humanitarian organizations are providing food for them," he added.
An estimated 300,000 people have died in Darfur since conflict erupted there in 2003 when local tribes took up arms against al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government in the capital, Khartoum, accusing authorities of years of neglect.
Moreno-Ocampo said the international community needs to act.
"We are dealing with a genocide. Is it easy to stop? No. Do we need to stop? Yes," he told AP.
"The international community failed in the past, failed to stop Rwanda genocide, failed to stop Balkans crimes," he added.
There are fears that the fresh Darfur case could spark a backlash against the 9,000-strong U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.
The prosecutor said it was up to the U.N. Security Council, which asked Moreno-Ocampo in 2005 to investigate crimes in Darfur, to "ensure compliance with the court's decision." Achieving unanimous backing for any action will be fraught with problems since two of the council's members, China and Russia, are Sudan's allies.
Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations said his country will try to persuade the Security Council to block Moreno-Ocampo from pursuing charges against al-Bashir.
A spokeswoman for the force said it had not suspended any military operations.
"All essential peacekeeping operations are being carried-out by troops," Shereen Zorba told The Associated Press in an e-mail from Khartoum.
However, she said: "a limited number of operations that carry security risk to civilian staff are temporarily restricted."Other international courts have indicted Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor of Liberia while they were in office. Milosevic died in custody in The Hague in 2006 shortly before the end of his trial, while Taylor is on trial for orchestrating atrocities in Sierra Leone.
Associated Press writers Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, Sudan, John Heilprin at the United Nations and Desmond Butler in Washington contributed to this report.