CAIRO, Egypt – Arab foreign ministers are expected to discuss a proposal Saturday calling on Sudan's president to hand over two Darfur war crimes suspects to an international tribunal in an effort to fend off the longtime leader's own prosecution on genocide charges, Arab diplomats said.
But it wasn't clear if the proposal would receive support during an emergency meeting Saturday of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo. Sudan also has shrugged off any deal that would send its citizens to the International Criminal Court.
"There will be no direct cooperation with the International Criminal Court, and the two Sudanese citizens will not be sent to The Hague," Sudanese presidential adviser Mustafa Osman Ismail said in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, late Thursday, according to the state-run Egyptian news agency. Phone calls to Ismail and other Sudanese officials on Friday went unanswered.
The meeting Saturday was called after the Netherlands-based tribunal's chief prosecutor on Monday announced genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of waging a campaign of extermination against three Darfur tribes that claimed up to 300,000 lives and drove 2.5 million people from their homes. A three-judge panel from the ICC is expected to take two to three months to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant.
The charges against al-Bashir came a year after the court indicted Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister, Ahmed Harun, who was formerly in charge of security in Darfur, and suspected militia leader Ali Kushayb on crimes against humanity.
During Saturday's meeting, Arab foreign ministers are expected to consider the proposal urging al-Bashir to surrender Harun and Kushayb to the ICC in return for asking the U.N. Security Council, which asked the court to investigate the Darfur conflict, to defer prosecution of al-Bashir for at least year, the Arab diplomats said. The diplomats, who were familiar with the discussions ahead of the meeting, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Deferring prosecution would allow time to build up the understaffed U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur to its full strength of 26,000. The court's statutes allow its judges to provide such leeway.
But the League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, also said any Arab response would also take into consideration the view that al-Bashir should be out of the court's reach because Sudan does not recognize its authority.
The 22-nation Arab League is loathe to see what it regards as the humiliation of an Arab leader, and many Arab countries, including Syria, have reacted strongly to the court action.
"Sudan already has too many problems. New ones will only further complicate the situation and neither peace will be achieved nor justice will be done," said Lebanese columnist Abdel Wahab Badrkhan in an interview.
But key regional powerhouses such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have made no firm commitment to support al-Bashir since the prosecutor's announcement. This could be an indication that heavyweight Arab governments might be fed up with al-Bashir, who has been ruling the war-stricken African nation for about 20 years.
Many also question the ability of a fractious Arab League to do anything to help Sudan in its confrontation with the ICC, especially since only three Arab League countries are signatories to the court — Jordan, Djibouti and Comoros.
"All they can do is to issue a statement of condemnation to console the Sudanese president," wrote Abdel-Rahman al-Rashid, a leading Saudi columnist for the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Monday. "We must remember that the Arab League did not care about extermination of 300,000 Darfuris. It even refused to stand a moment of silence to the killings, displacements and burning."