The head of the Arab League travelled to Sudan on Sunday night to discuss an Arab plan aimed at defusing the crisis over the indictment of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the country’s president, on genocide charges.
By Heba Saleh in Cairo
On Saturday an emergency Arab foreign ministers’ meeting had criticised the decision by the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to indict Mr Bashir last week as “unbalanced” because he had not investigated allegations against Darfur rebels.
Amr Moussa at the weekend meeting of Arab foreign ministers that discussed Sudan
However, Mr Moreno-Ocampo had already announced on Thursday that he would look into alleged war crimes committed by the rebels, though he stood by his decision to seek the arrest of Mr Bashir. A total of 10 charges have been filed against the president: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder.
The Arab ministers said that the “priority should be given to a political settlement in Sudan” and they called for an international summit to resolve the crisis in the Darfur region, where about 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5m forced from their homes since 2003, according to United Nations estimates.
Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, refused to reveal details of the plan before his discussions with Sudanese officials, but he said the Arab League would co-ordinate with the African Union which is meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.
“We are worried about the implications for peace and stability in Sudan,” said Hisham Youssef, a senior Arab League diplomat. “This situation needs to be handled wisely and anyone who committed crimes or violations of human rights should be held accountable.”
The Arab ministers had made clear in a statement adopted by their meeting that the Sudanese courts had a role to play in bringing to justice those accused of violations.
The ICC does not have a mandate over cases where local justice is seen to be functioning and discharging its duty to punish and deter abuses.
Only three members of the 22-strong Arab League – Jordan, Djibouti and the Comoros – recognise the international court. The Arab ministers, however, did not echo Sudan’s argument that the ICC had no jurisdiction.
“We are speaking about a dangerous subject,” Mr Moussa told reporters after the ministers’ meeting. “To help ourselves we first need to adopt a sensible position concerning human rights and the legal and political aspects [of the situation]. That is why we are speaking about trials, justice and trying those responsible for the situation in Darfur.”
It seems likely one element of the Arab plan would be for Sudan to present for trial, in domestic courts, some of the officials and militia leaders implicated in the Darfur atrocities.
Mr Bashir had refused to hand over for trial two Sudanese officials indicted a year ago by the ICC accused of committing crimes against humanity.