The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court sought an arrest warrant Monday for Sudan's president on charges of waging a campaign of genocide and rape in Darfur, a high-risk strategy that could backfire against the people in the war-torn desert region.
The indictment marked the first time prosecutors at the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal have issued charges against a sitting head of state, though President Omar al-Bashir was unlikely to face trial any time soon.
Sudan denounced the indictment as a political stunt, saying it would ignore any arrest order and was considering all options, including an unspecified military response.
One Sudanese lawmaker said his government could no longer guarantee the safety of U.N. staff in the troubled region, and Sudan's ambassador said his nation will try to persuade the U.N. Security Council to block a prosecutor from pursuing genocide charges against the Sudanese president.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo filed 10 charges against al-Bashir related to a campaign of extermination of three Darfur tribes that the U.N. says claimed 300,000 lives and driven 2.5 million people from their homes. A three-judge panel was expected to take two to three months to decide whether to issue an arrest warrant.
Human rights groups welcomed the prosecutor's move, but cautioned it could provoke a violent backlash from Sudan, while offering little prospect that al-Bashir will be arrested and sent for trial to The Hague. The court, which began work in 2002, has no enforcement arm.
“The prosecutor's legal strategy also poses major risks for the fragile peace and security environment in Sudan,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a statement.