PARIS – PARIS (AP) — The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court on Tuesday called the new genocide charges filed against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir the "last chance to stop genocide in Darfur."
Luis Moreno Ocampo said the 10-judge panel's decision, announced Monday, to charge al-Bashir with three counts of genocide in Darfur "will force the world to pay attention to the reality" on the ground in the embattled western Sudanese province. He added he hoped it would also cement the international community's will to see the Sudanese leader tried in The Hague.
The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have be forced from their homes in Darfur since ethnic African rebels rose up in 2003, accusing Sudan's Arab-dominated central government of neglect and discrimination.
"The ICC decision is the last chance to stop the genocide in Darfur, the last chance to stop President Bashir's current crimes and to prevent further crimes in Darfur or in Southern Sudan," Moreno Ocampo told journalists at a news conference in Paris, where he was attending meetings.
Last year, judges issued a warrant against al-Bashir for crimes against humanity but refused to indict him on genocide charges. The prosecutor appealed that ruling, an appellate court ruled that the lower court's decision was legally wrong, and prosecutors filed their case again, resulting in Monday's issuing of the arrest warrant against al-Bashir.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said the United States continues "to call on the government of Sudan and all other parties to the conflict to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court." The U.S. is not a member of the court.
Moreno Ocampo, who had long sought the genocide charges, said he hoped that the new, more serious charges would convince three key nations that aren't ICC members — the United States, as well as China and Russia — to take a tougher stance on Darfur.
He said a United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday would prove the perfect "opportunity to see which countries are committed to make the 'never again' a reality."
"The Security Council is all about consensus. If all the countries, in particular the big countries, make an agreement between them, they stop the conflict in a second," Moreno told The Associated Press on the margins of Tuesday's news conference.
"Arresting a head of state requires first a consensus in the political elite," he said. "That's what we need in Darfur, consensus that it (genocide) can't happen. What happens is, Darfuris have no oil, nothing, really, so no one cares, really. That's the problem."
Under Monday's decision, al-Bashir faces three counts of genocide: by killing, by causing mental and physical harm, and "by deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction" against the Darfur tribal groups Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.
Al-Bashir, who was re-elected to a new five-year term earlier this year, refuses to recognize the court's authority and has insisted he will not turn himself in to stand trial.
Still, Moreno Ocampo expressed certainty the Sudanese leader would eventually stand trial.
"Bashir is destined to face charges, in two years, in 10 years, I don't know," Moreno Ocampo told The AP. "The problem is the victims have no time. The victims are living for the last five years in camps — no education, no future for them, destroyed. They have no time. We have to rescue them now."