Sudan's president, accused of masterminding genocide in Darfur, might escape war crimes charges if he brings to justice two men suspected of mass killings, Western envoys said on Wednesday. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, asked the ICC on Monday to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on suspicion of crimes against humanity.
Sudan, China and South Africa have expressed concern that a formal indictment of Bashir could damage the stalled peace process aimed at ending the 5-year-old conflict in Darfur. "The search for justice should not jeopardize the other priorities in Sudan," South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told reporters ahead of a Security Council meeting.
According to Reuters, Sudan's U.N. envoy Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem said he was in talks with the Russians and Chinese to find a way for the Security Council to use its power to freeze any ICC moves. Western diplomats said it is too early to discuss a council suspension of any ICC indictment but added that Moreno-Ocampo made it clear a messy situation can be avoided if Khartoum were to change its behavior on earlier ICC charges.
They said Bashir could escape indictment if he ended what they see as impunity for two men the ICC charged last year over Darfur. Khartoum has not handed them to the court or started legal proceedings in Sudan to investigate the allegations.
One senior diplomat said that Moreno-Ocampo's "mounting frustration was because of a complete lack of engagement or any response to the indictments." The main allegation against Bashir was one of "command responsibility," he said.
"His refusal to cooperate in bringing to justice those that the ICC thought were responsible for the actual killings on the ground adds force, adds evidence to the allegation of command responsibility for those killings," the diplomat said. "Now, were the situation to change, the prosecutor's attitude might change." Other envoys confirmed this view.