Sudan's military dictator was accused of genocide and crimes against humanity yesterday when the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court held him responsible for the bloodshed in Darfur.
President Omar al-Bashir, who seized power in a military coup 19 years ago, is the first serving head of state to face proceedings at the ICC in The Hague.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor, accused Mr Bashir of three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.
All of these alleged offences were committed during the war in Sudan's western region of Darfur, which has claimed at least 300,000 lives.
Black African rebels began the fighting in 2003 when they rose against Mr Bashir's Arab-dominated regime.
In response, Mr Bashir's forces raised Arab militias, widely known as the "Janjaweed'', or "demons on horseback'', and turned them on innocent civilians from the tribes that had provided rebel fighters.
The Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit tribes were the main victims. Hundreds of their villages were razed and more than two million people forced into squalid refugee camps.
During yesterday's hearing in The Hague, Mr Moreno-Ocampo said this amounted to "genocide''.
"He [Mr Bashir] wants to end the history of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people. I don't have the luxury to look away. I have evidence,'' said Mr Moreno-Ocampo. "His motives were largely political. His alibi was counter-insurgency. His intent was genocide.''
The prosecutor's office added: "Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit groups on account of their ethnicity.'' Mr Moreno-Ocampo argued that this met the legal definition of genocide. However, this is a controversial view of Darfur's conflict. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both reported that Darfur's killings do not amount to genocide because the crucial element of an intention to eradicate a given ethnic group has not been proved.
But Mr Moreno-Ocampo said that forcing civilians to flee into refugee camps scattered across Darfur's arid landscape was proof of Mr Bashir's "intent to commit genocide''.
The prosecutor said: "He did not need bullets. He used other weapons: rape, hunger and fear. As efficient, but silent.'' Sudanese forces and their "Janjaweed'' allies have been accused of mass rape.
Mr Moreno-Ocampo quoted one victim as saying: "When we see them, we run. Some of us succeed in getting away and some are caught and taken to be raped -- gang-raped. Maybe around 20 men rape one woman. These things are normal for us here in Darfur. These things happen all the time.''
In yesterday's hearing before three judges from the ICC's "pre-trial chamber'', Mr Moreno-Ocampo applied for Mr Bashir to be formally charged and an arrest warrant issued. The judges will probably take two or three months to decide on this request.
If they agree, Mr Bashir will be indicted on all or some of the 10 counts. The judges could, however, rule that the evidence is insufficient and dismiss the case. Whatever happens, Sudan does not recognise the ICC and has vowed never to surrender any suspects for trial. Carefully organised demonstrations in support of Mr Bashir have already taken place in Khartoum. (© Daily Telegraph)