SPIEGEL Interview with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir 'I Feel Completely Safe'
In a SPIEGEL interview, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, discusses the worldwide condemnation of war crimes in Darfur, the possible partition of Sudan and his relationship with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
According to United Nations estimates, about 300,000 people died and at least 2 million were forced to flee their homes in Sudan's Darfur region between 2003 and 2008. In the years of forced displacement and torture, the political responsibility lay with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state against whom the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant. The court indicted Bashir on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.
The president of the largest African country, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, stands accused of being responsible for the bombing of numerous villages. He is also accused of having armed and paid the Arab mounted militias known as the Janjaweed, so that, after the bombings, they could murder people in the settlements, drive them out and systematically rape the women. So far, however, Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has not gained the support of a majority of the judges in The Hague in his efforts to prosecute Bashir for genocide.
Bashir came to power in a non-violent coup about 21 years ago, and in 1993 he was formally confirmed as president. In 2005, he agreed to a treaty brokered by the West, which ended the decades-long civil war in the country's Christian and animist south. Under the agreement, the south will decide, in a January 2011 referendum, whether to secede from the rest of the country. The population is expected to choose independence.
In the Muslim north, however, Bashir has in fact benefited from the arrest warrant. The Arab League and the African Union have come to his support, and the indictment has provided him with a defiant burst of sympathy within the population. Observers expect Bashir to be confirmed as president in the elections in mid-April.
In an exclusive SPIEGEL interview, Bashir describes the accusations against him as "baseless," and "conspiracy controlled from abroad."
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, you are the first sitting head of state against whom the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In addition, genocide charges are being considered against you. More than 100 countries, or about half of the world, are required to execute the arrest warrant. How do you respond to these serious charges?
Bashir: It is simply not true that 100 or more countries have taken a stand against Sudan. Many African nations are demanding that the International Criminal Court reconsider the decision, and some countries are even threatening to withdraw from the tribunal because of it.
SPIEGEL: More and more countries, including South Africa, are distancing themselves from you.
Bashir: We have excellent relations with South Africa. The vice president visited us, and we have arranged for the president to visit us after our elections in April. I have received a personal invitation from Venezuela, which I will also accept after the election. Yes, there are problems, mainly with the European countries. But the strangest behavior is coming from the United States, which insists on execution of the arrest warrant, and yet never recognized the International Criminal Court.
SPIEGEL: You seem to show little concern for your safety here, despite the persistent rumors that you are threatened by a special commando that could execute the arrest warrant and take you to The Hague.
Bashir: I feel completely safe in my country. On the contrary, the International Criminal Court has even done me a service, one that I could never have dreamed of. My popularity at home has unexpectedly shot up as a result of this arrest warrant.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, unspeakable crimes have occurred in the troubled Darfur region. According to the indictment, you controlled the notorious Janjaweed mounted militias, which systematically raided villages in Darfur and massacred residents.
Bashir: Those are all baseless accusations. From the beginning, it was a conspiracy controlled from abroad that supported the rebellion in Darfur, politically, militarily and financially. At first, these foreign manipulators backed the rebels in southern Sudan. Then our troops regained the upper hand and the conflict abated. But then the same backers supported the rebels in Darfur, taking advantage of traditional conflicts between farmers and herders, which occur regularly during drought periods.
SPIEGEL: But foreigners didn't commit the massacres in Darfur.
Bashir: Of course there were crimes, even horrible crimes, but it's the same everywhere in the world where armed gangs cause trouble and oppose the government. It is the obligation of our armed forces to confront the rebels. Everything that is claimed abroad about the Janjaweed militias and their alleged attacks is done solely for the purpose of twisting the facts.
SPIEGEL: Let's be clear about this: There were war crimes in Darfur. Are you claiming that it was merely the lower ranks in your army that committed the atrocities there?
Bashir: Our armed forces always operate within the framework of the law. Any member of the army and the government who breaks the law is held accountable. A police officer once pursued a band of armed men and shot the leader, for which he was sentenced to death. In another case, a member of the security forces killed a citizen in Darfur. He too was tried and executed.
SPIEGEL: As commander-in-chief and head of state, do you assume personal responsibility for what happened in Darfur?
Bashir: It is one of my duties to ensure that the laws are observed, and I am responsible for everything that happens while I perform this duty.
- Part 1: 'I Feel Completely Safe'
- Part 2: 'The Sanctions Are Not Causing any Problems for Us'