President Bashir, you are hereby charged…

OMAR Hassan al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, was yesterday charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, his country's western province.

It was not immediately clear how Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) planned to carry out the arrest of the first head of state ever to be indicted by the court.

The six-year-old ICC has 600 staff at its headquarters in The Hague, but no police force.

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However, the 106 countries, including 30 in Africa, who have ratified the court's founding treaty, are now obliged to arrest Sudan's head of state if he sets foot on their soil and deliver him up to The Hague.

Sudan is not a treaty signatory, but the ICC action against Bashir and two others was triggered by the United Nations Security Council which in 2005 asked the court to investigate the Darfur crisis.

Some 400,000 Darfuris in a population of 6.5 million have died in a five-year conflict and three million have fled to camps within Darfur itself or across Sudan's western border into Chad.

Kofi Annan, the then UN secretary-general, gave Mr Moreno-Ocampo a list of 51 people who could be charged with genocide – the gravest charge that any court can bring – and other war crimes in Darfur. The list had been passed to Mr Annan by an Italian judge, Antonio Cassese, a professor of international law from Florence who had organised the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia.

Mr Cassese and a 30-man investigative team visited Darfur and gathered nine crates of evidence detailing rapes, torture, looting and mass killings.

Their 176-page dossier led to arrest warrants being issued by the ICC for Sudan's deputy interior minister, Ahmed Harun, and Ali Kuhyb, commander of a government militia. Bashir responded by swearing he would never extradite a Sudanese citizen to any foreign court. He then promoted Harun to minister with special responsibility for humanitarian assistance to the people of Darfur.

In one of innumerable cases reported by Mr Cassese, more than 100 schoolgirls were gang-raped at a boarding school in northern Darfur by the so-called Janjaweed militiamen.

According to evidence, the militiamen arrived in government trucks at 6am while government soldiers surrounded the school. "They pointed the guns at the girls and forced all 110 of them to strip naked, took their valuables and all their bedding," said one girl's evidence. "My friend was taken from the group, blindfolded, pushed down to the ground and raped. Other girls were screaming as they were raped."

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Announcing his request for an arrest warrant at a press conference in The Hague yesterday, Mr Moreno-Ocampo, formerly an Argentine human-rights lawyer, said Bashir "masterminded and implemented" a plan to destroy the three main ethnic groups in Darfur: the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.

The prosecutor, who is not required to prove the allegations before requesting a warrant, said he had "very strong evidence that Bashir controlled everything: the generals, the intelligence, the ministers and the media, as well as the militia".

He added: "His motives were largely political. His alibi was a 'counter-insurgency'. His intent was genocide.

Bashir organised the destitution, insecurity and harassment of the survivors, He did not need bullets. He used other weapons: rapes, hunger and fear."

Secretive head of a nation torn by brutal civil wars

OMAR Hassan al-Bashir was a 45-year-old colonel when he took power in Sudan in a 1989 military coup.

He overthrew the government of Sadeq al-Mahdi, and later suspended political parties. In 1993, he dissolved the military junta that had taken him to power, appointing himself civilian president. His first decade and a half in power was spent embroiled in a brutal civil war between Sudan's Arab Muslim north and the black African Christian and animist south.

By the time his regime signed a deal to end the north-south conflict, in 2005, another civil war had been raging for two years in Darfur, the vast, mainly desert province in Sudan's west.

The 64-year-old Sudanese president is personally secretive. He is married to a cousin, Fatma Khaldid. He also has a second wife, named Widad, who had a number of children with her first husband, who was killed in a helicopter crash. Omar al-Bashir does not have any children of his own.

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He has imposed several elements of Islamic law on the country, while opening up the country to investment in oil, particularly by China, which imports most of the 500,000 barrels produced each day.

Beijing has also supplied the weaponry of Sudan's armed forces.

Lawyer not afraid to take on the rich and powerful

LUIS Moreno-Ocampo, 56, an Argentine lawyer, is married to Elvita and they have three sons and a daughter.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo was appointed as the first prosecutor of the new International Criminal Court (ICC) on 16 June, 2003.

He came to international attention in 1985, when he was deputy public prosecutor in the trial for human rights abuses of former members of Argentina's military government.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo took on the rich and powerful in Argentina, prosecuting military officers responsible for the invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 and campaigning against corruption.

His initial investigations with the ICC have concentrated on human rights abuses by warlords in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by the Lord's Resistance Army insurgents in Uganda, by government forces and militias in Sudan and by various forces in the central African republic.

He has been described as "a Don Quixote figure" by Ted Braun, the director of Darfur Now, an American-based international pressure group. "He's one man, working alone, taking on the world with a great vision of what he can do, but without a lot of overt backing," said Mr Braun.

Leading the campaign for action

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THE Scotsman was one of the first newspapers to reveal the atrocities taking place in Darfur and campaign for government action.

As early as 2004, we highlighted the fact thousands of people were being displaced and slaughtered by Arab militiamen. Our journalists travelled to Darfur to report on the situation first-hand and Scotsman readers raised 53,000 for the Unicef relief operations there.

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