JOHANNESBURG, South Africa Describing a systematic government campaign to decimate the people of Darfur, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor on Monday charged the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, with genocide and war crimes and called for his arrest.
The charges are the first to be brought against a sitting head of state by the 5-year-old court. While it remains to be seen whether it'll help to end the conflict in Darfur the vast western region of Sudan that for six years has been racked by fighting between government-backed militias and several rebel factions human rights groups said that al-Bashir's indictment was a step toward ending impunity for war crimes.
The court's prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina, said that he'd chronicled state-sponsored violence in Darfur over the past five years and had concluded that al-Bashir had "masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa," the three main ethnic groups in Darfur.
In response to a rebel uprising in Darfur, Moreno Ocampo said, al-Bashir sent government forces and Arab militias known as janjaweed to destroy villages inhabited by those three groups. On al-Bashir's orders, pro-government forces slaughtered some 35,000 civilians beginning in March 2003 and raped thousands of women and girls, he said.
Al-Bashir, who became president in 1989, also has used his near-total control over Sudan's political and security structures to thwart efforts to help the nearly 2.5 million Darfurians who've become refugees in their own land, Moreno Ocampo said. Al-Bashir's government "consistently obstructs or blocks humanitarian assistance" and has stationed militias on the outskirts of displacement camps to terrorize the inhabitants, he said.
More than 100,000 civilians the vast majority of them from Darfur's main ethnic groups have endured "slow death" from hunger, illness and poor living conditions in the camps, according to court documents.
"(Al-Bashir) is the mastermind behind the alleged crimes," Moreno Ocampo said. "He has absolute control."
A three-judge panel now must determine whether to issue a warrant for al-Bashir's arrest, a process that could take months. Sudan, which isn't a party to the court, has ignored warrants issued last year for two other Darfur suspects: Ahmed Haroun, a humanitarian affairs minister in al-Bashir's government, and alleged janjaweed commander Ali Kosheib.
Sudanese government spokesman Rabbie Abdel Atti said that the case against al-Bashir "will be resisted by all political means."