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
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London