Just hours before FP's Elizabeth Allen spoke with International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the New York Times reported that the court's judges had decided to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir -- the first even indictment of a sitting head of state. Bashir would be implicated for his role in the ongoing conflict in Darfur, which many call the first genocide of the 21st century.
While the court denies having made its decision, the suggestion alone has provoked controversy. Advocacy groups worry that indicting the Sudanese president could jeopardize ongoing peace negotiations to end the crisis, or worse: inspire Bashir to tighten his grip and resort to further violence. But in his discussion with Foreign Policy, Moreno-Ocampo argues that the indictment is crucial to ending impunity in Darfur. He told FP, "I'm sorry if I disturb those who are in negotiations, but these are the facts."
Foreign Policy: Was a warrant issued by the court yesterday for the arrest of Bashir?
Luis Moreno-Ocampo: No. The report says the judges decided. I don't know what they know. But it's not official. The judges said today they have not decided.
FP: Tell us about the ICC's involvement in Darfur, and specifically, the case against Bashir. For example, what evidence do you have to implicate him on the intent to commit genocide?
LMO: In February 2007, we presented the first case on Darfur [consisting of] the attacks against the villages mainly inhabited by the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa ethnic groups. The modus operandi was, [government organized militias] would surround villages that had no [Darfuri] rebel presence, helicopters or planes would drop bombs, and the government forces attacked the village.
Since June 2007, and particularly in December, I [was told] to focus my investigation on the crimes committed in the camps. In the camps, the attacks are more subtle. There are two weapons: rape and hunger. It's normal for women [who are] going to look for firewood to be raped, the same way that for you it's normal on Sunday afternoon for you to get a parking place at the supermarket.
You have to understand that Bashir and his government are a very smart people. They're not a failed state. When they saw the reaction [to village attacks,] the method [became] more silent: raping and hunger. They don't need gas chambers; they don't need machetes, because they have the desert to kill them. They are hindering humanitarian assistance. That's a subtle way to commit a genocide today.
FP: Sudan has national elections scheduled for this year, and a referendum in 2011 to allow Southern Sudan to formally secede. How might these events be affected by an ICC arrest warrant?
LMO: My mandate was to end the impunity, in order to prevent future crimes. If the judges issue a warrant against Bashir, it will be the beginning of ending impunity. I'm concerned about the second part: prevent[ing] future crimes. The international community has a three-pronged [approach]: humanitarian assistance, security, and political agreement, ignoring justice. What I saw when we issued a warrant for [Sudan's Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs] Ahmed Harun was a tendency to ignore reality. This is affecting humanitarian assistance and also security. Mr. Harun is on the committee to deploy UNAMID, and he is of course affecting the deployment. Mr. Harun was appointed head of a committee to investigate human rights abuses. This is not a joke; this is a way for Mr. Bashir to confirm to other members of his group that if they follow his orders, legal orders, nothing will happen to them.
FP: Could the pursuit of justice result in the exacerbation of atrocities or hardships in Darfur? Could it impede the recently begun peace negotiations between the government and the Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, in Doha?
LMO: No. For people in Darfur, nothing could be worse. We need negotiations, but if Bashir is indicted, he is not the person to negotiate with. Mr. Bashir could not be an option for [negotiations on] Darfur, or, in fact, for the South. I believe negotiators have to learn how to adjust to the reality. The court is a reality.
I think for [the negotiators, the indictment] is de facto, it's a reality. They assume that Mr. Bashir is indicted. Maybe [that makes] the negotiation more difficult, but it's more promising. Bashir has been committing genocide for the last five years, so why do you believe he will change? And the idea that [the same thing] will not happen again in the South? Be careful.