The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda clashed with Sudan’s envoy to the United Nations on Wednesday over ICC efforts to prosecute Sudanese leaders for war crimes allegedly committed in the country's Darfur region.
The barbed exchange came during Ms Bensouda’s presentation to the UN Security Council in which she lamented the failure to arrest Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity after warrant had been issued more than nine years ago.
Ms Bensouda also pressed the Council to take action against Uganda and Chad for failing to execute the arrest warrant last year during Mr Bashir’s visits despite the two nations being signatories to the ICC.
Responding to Ms Bensouda's report, Sudanese ambassador Omer Dahan Fadl Mohamed accused the ICC of “politicisation, distortion and corruption.”
He added that the report contained “outright lies” and concealed “secret objectives” that he did not explain.
Mr Mohamed suggested that the Court is biased against African states, which, he noted, have been the almost exclusive target of ICC prosecutions.
Moreover, the ICC no jurisdiction to prosecute a sitting head of state, the Sudanese envoy maintained.
In reply, Ms Bensouda said: “I regret the hostile and disrespectful language directed at me personally, my office and the Court itself.”
“I strongly reject the continued baseless allegations of conspiracy theories and improper motives,” she added. “It is tiring and demonstrates a lack of respect for not only this Council but also the victims of atrocity crimes and the Court of International Criminal Justice.”
She called on Sudan to hand over President Bashir and four other Sudanese leaders wanted for the alleged war crimes in Darfur so that their guilt or innocence could be established in a transparent and fair judicial process.
The ICC has ample evidence of those suspects' involvement in atrocities, Ms Bensouda told the Council, adding, “This is a fact that the government of Sudan cannot simply wish away.”
Two African states holding temporary seats on the 15-member Security Council sided with Sudan's contention that the ICC has no case to make against President Bashir.
Ethiopia's representative said the ICC's basis for prosecuting the Sudanese leader is “so weak that its continuation makes no sense,” while the delegate from Equatorial Guinea said the Court lacks jurisdiction to bring charges against a sitting president.
“Some states have chosen not to arrest Mr Bashir for that reason,” ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba said.
The debate on Wednesday took place amid a gradual drawdown of the UN/African Union force in Darfur. The head of the UN peacekeeping department said last week that the situation in Darfur has “changed radically for the better.”
Sudan government troops have consolidated their control over much of the region that has been the scene of a 15-year-long war pitting non-Arab African tribes against Sudanese forces and allied militias. The UN estimates that some 300,000 people have died in the conflict.
Rebel groups have been rendered largely ineffectual, a recent UN/African Union report said. Only in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur does fighting persist, the report stated.
The Troika – consisting of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States – that has led efforts to quell the conflict, warned on Tuesday that the ongoing violence in Jebel Marra is “causing high numbers of civilian injury and death, and the displacement of nearly 9,000 people.”
The joint statement by the Troika added that it is “unacceptable” for the government of Sudan to be preventing the African Union/UN peacekeeping mission from accessing conflict zones in Jebel Marra.