The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for Sudan’s defense minister on Friday as part of its investigation into atrocities in the Darfur conflict.
The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of orchestrating genocide in Darfur, as well as for a former minister of state for the interior and a militia leader, all of whom remain at large and in the case of Bashir, free to travel widely.
Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein is one of several senior officials Human Rights Watch had asked the Hague-based war crimes court to investigate over a conflict during which hundreds of thousands are estimated to have been killed and millions displaced.
Khartoum has given much lower casualty estimates.
Khartoum, meanwhile, accused the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor of cooperating with the rebels.
Sudan’s foreign ministry said it was not surprised by what it said was a “politically motivated” decision, designed to undermine the Doha peace document that the government and a splinter Darfur rebel group signed in July.
“The request for an arrest warrant is against the Doha document for peace in Darfur that addressed all the issues in the region, including justice and reconciliation,” ministry spokesman al-Obeid Meruh said in a statement seen by AFP.
“It serves the basic agenda of those groups opposed to the Doha document and seeking to put obstacles in the way of its implementation,” he added.
“Individuals in the prosecutor’s office had already informed the media about the indictment, during their activities carried out in cooperation with the Darfuri rebel groups,” according to Meruh.
He charged that the application was carefully designed to coincide with the Sudanese army's victories against other armed groups in Blue Nile and South Kordofan so as “to raise the rebels’ morale.”
Hussein is one of Bashir’s closest allies and is leading the campaign against rebels in the southern border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Hussein was wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004. At the time, he was interior minister and the president's special representative in Darfur.
The prosecutor said that the crimes took place during attacks following “a common pattern” on several towns and villages in West Darfur.
“The government of the Sudan forces surrounded the villages, the air force dropped bombs indiscriminately and foot soldiers, including militia/Janjaweed, killed, raped and looted the entire village, forcing the displacement of 4 million inhabitants,” he said in a statement.
The ICC has been frustrated in its efforts to secure Bashir’s arrest, in part because it does not have its own police force and has to rely on member states to enforce warrants.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Sudan’s western Darfur region in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.
Moreno-Ocampo accuses Bashir of having personally instructed his forces to annihilate three ethnic groups -- the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa, according to AFP.
The prosecutor says some four million people were uprooted from their homes, of whom 2.5 were still languishing in camps for displaced people today.
Bashir denies the charges and refuses to recognize the international court. He has continued to travel freely to nearby Middle Eastern and African allies, and as far afield as China.
He visited the southern African state of Malawi in October for a regional trade summit, prompting the ICC to demand an explanation from Malawi, given that it is an ICC member state and therefore obliged to co-operate with the court.