The Big Question: What would a genocide charge mean for Sudan's leader and his country?

Why are we asking this now?

The International Criminal Court has decided that Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir may be charged with genocide after all. Appeal judges in The Hague yesterday reversed an earlier ruling by the ICC's own pre-trial chamber that there was not enough evidence to charge Mr al-Bashir with genocide. Under the convoluted procedures of the court this means a decision on whether the charge will be added to the counts against him could still be several months away. In effect the appeal judges have lowered the bar slightly on what constitutes evidence of genocide and will now ask the pre-trial chamber to take a second look and see whether the charge now fits.

Hasn't he already been charged by the ICC?

Yes. The 74-year-old already has an active international arrest warrant against him on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include murder, rape and torture over events in the Western Sudanese region of Darfur. In March of last year the ICC made Mr al-Bashir the first sitting head of state to be indicted. The court has been investigating possible crimes in Darfur for three years and Sudan's long-time leader is one of four men charged with crimes against humanity. Only one of those men, Darfuri rebel leader Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, has appeared before the court where he denied executing a dozen AU peacekeepers.

What happened in Darfur?

Six years of fighting widely believed to have been triggered by a scramble for diminishing resources like water and pasture became a byword for human rights abuses. As many as 300,000 people are thought to have died and more than 2.5 million are said to have fled their homes since ethnic African tribes took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in 2003, claiming persecution and neglect. Mr Al-Bashir responded with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in which the now notorious Janjaweed – a pro-government Arab militia – are alleged to have committed widespread atrocities.

With all the other charges, does one of genocide matter?

Potentially yes. The emotive power of the term genocide has played a large part in making the conflict in Sudan's vast Western region such a vocal global campaigning issue. The ICC prosecutors argued last year that the Bashir regime had deliberately attempted to wipe out the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa peoples. While the pre-trial judges were convinced of the strength of evidence for massive crimes against humanity they weren't convinced of the intent to commit genocide. They have now been told to take another look at the evidence with a view to including three counts of genocide, bringing a prospective charge a big step forward. In practical terms it will increase the pressure on the US, which has been proceeding cautiously on Sudan, to consider tougher actions such as imposing a no-fly zone.

Why hasn't Bashir been arrested?

The ICC has a prosecutor, courts, its own prison and a large bureaucracy. But it doesn't have a police force. It relies instead on the 108 countries that recognise the authority of the ICC to do the detaining. Interestingly those signatories do not include UN Security Council members China, Russia and the US as well as emerging economic superpower India. For its part Sudan has rejected indictment and attacked the court as a Western imperialist puppet.

And how has Bashir reacted to the ICC's move against him?

He has thumbed his nose at it and continued to travel to friendly regimes such as Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia among others. He was in Qatar yesterday when news of the appeal judges' decision was announced. The Sudanese ruler has been careful to avoid anywhere where he might be arrested, going as far as to duck an economic forum in Uganda, which might have been pressured into arresting him. A year on from the attention-grabbing indictment an actual trial and sentencing remains a dim and distant prospect.

What effect is the indictment having on the bigger picture in Sudan?

The attempt to put the man who has ruled Africa's largest country for the last 20 years in the dock has divided opinion in Africa and launched a heated debate over peace versus justice. The indicted president responded furiously last March, ordering foreign aid agencies out of Darfur and railing against the court as a "neo- colonialist" ICC. There is little doubt, even within Sudan, of the president's guilt and most analysts agree that he would lose a free and fair election. But outside pressure from the ICC may help to increase his popularity among his core support of Muslims.

Does the ICC have credible critics?

Many long-time Sudan observers fear that the grandstanding of the ICC, while popular in the West where the Darfur conflict resonates strongly if not precisely, could help to unravel the tortuous peace process in this most complex of countries. Sudan was wracked by a 20-year north-south civil war before Darfur hit the headlines. This year will be crucial to the survival of a five-year ceasefire between the mainly Christian and animist south and the Arab-led north. The first nationwide elections in decades are due in April and already many analysts are warning that the north-south fighting may resume. Respected Sudan expert Alex De Waal said the arrest warrant was "tantamount to demanding regime change" and the approach is a "gamble with unknowable consequences and very large risks."

Would a genocide charge weaken the prospects for peace?

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the civil war is already fraying. A fragile peace holds in Darfur where the head of the 25,000-strong UN, African Union force has declared the war to be over. The future of Sudan depends on a bewildering number of variables as political parties, rebel armies, foreign corporations and religious groups compete for power and control over vast territory and oil wealth. The south is due to vote on secession from the north in less than a year's time but an upsurge in violence during April's election could be used as a pretext to prevent that from happening.

What about the rebel groups?

They have proven their capacity to strike at the capital Khartoum and may decide irrespective of the ICC to relaunch the war. Peace in Darfur and with the South has relied on their involvement. The current negotiations on Darfur led by South Africa's former president Thabo Mbeki - tarnished by his failed "quiet diplomacy" with Zimbabwe – hinge on Mr al-Bashir remaining engaged. A genocide charge arguably weakens the already embattled former military man and could leave him with little option but to remain in power by any means necessary.

Is charging Bashir with genocide the right thing to do?

Yes...

* A genocide charge would send a message that heads of state have no immunity

* The man who came to power in a coup has led a brutal and destructive government

* The ICC needs to impose its moral authority on current crises not just past crimes

No...

* Peace in Sudan is more important than a marquee indictment to appease the Darfur lobby

* The crimes in Darfur are no worse than crimes in south Sudan or elsewhere in Africa

* The ICC has little evidence of intent to commit genocide on the part of the Bashir regime

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain