President of Darfur Charged With Crimes Against Humanity

July 14, 2008

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges Monday against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur with a campaign of murder, rape and deportation.

The filing marked the first time prosecutors at the world’s first permanent, global war crimes court have issued charges against a sitting head of state, but al-Bashir is unlikely to be sent to The Hague any time soon. Sudan rejects the court’s jurisdiction, and senior Sudanese officials said the prosecutor was politically motivated to file the charges.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked a three-judge panel at the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir to prevent the slow deaths of some 2.5 million people forced from their homes in Darfur and still under attack from government-backed janjaweed militia.

“Genocide is a crime of intention — we don’t need to wait until these 2.5 million die,” he told The Associated Press.

“The genocide is ongoing,” he added, saying systematic rape was a key element of the campaign. “Seventy-year-old women, 6-year-old girls are raped,” he said.

Moreno-Ocampo was undeterred by concern that his indictment against al-Bashir might ignite a storm of vengeance against Darfur refugees and spur Sudan to shut out relief agencies and possibly peacekeeping troops. Al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party on Sunday warned of “more violence and blood” in the vast western region if an arrest warrant is issued against the president, state TV reported.

“I am a prosecutor doing a judicial case,” Moreno-Ocampo said. He filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order al-Bashir’s arrest.

Al-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,” the prosecutor said in a statement after submitting his case to the judges.

One victim cited by prosecutors said rapes are woven into the fabric of life in Darfur.

“Maybe around 20 men rape one woman. These things are normal for us here in Darfur,” she said. “I have seen rapes too. It does not matter who sees them raping the women — they don’t care. They rape girls in front of their mothers and fathers.”

Moreno-Ocampo said the rapes were producing a generation of so-called “janjaweed babies” and “an explosion of infanticide” by victims.

The head of Sudan’s Bar Association and ruling party stalwart, Fathi Khalil told The Associated Press that Sudan was not a member of the International Criminal Court and was not bound by Moreno-Ocampo’s decision.

“The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court with his announcement demanding the arrest of President al-Bashir has proved that he is playing a political role, not a legal one,” Khalil said.

Khalil said the decision came after international pressure on the court, undermining its reputation and independence. He said neither the ICC nor the U.N. Security Council have the right to refer a country that is not a member to the ICC to the court.

The Sudanese Liberation Movement-Unity, a rebel group in Darfur, offered to help arrest and extradite any war criminals from Sudan.

If judges issue an arrest warrant, they will effectively turn al-Bashir into a prisoner in his own country. In the past, Interpol has issued so-called Red Notices for fugitives wanted by the court, meaning they should be arrested any time they attempt to cross an international border.

In the United States, which is not part of the ICC, American officials said they were examining the indictment.

“We make our own determinations according to our own laws, our own regulations with respect to who should be subject to war crimes, genocide related statutes. The ICC is a separate matter and we are not part of the ICC. All of that said, we certainly stand for accountability,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Moreno-Ocampo said most members of the three targeted ethnic African groups were driven from their homes by Sudanese forces and the janjaweed in 2004. Since then, the janjaweed have been targeting the camps aiming to starve the refugees.

“These 2.5 million people are in camps. They (al-Bashir’s forces) don’t need gas chambers because the desert will kill them,” Moreno-Ocampo said, drawing comparison’s with Nazi Germany’s most notorious method of mass murder during the Holocaust.

The refugees “have no more water, no more food, no more cattle. They have lost everything. They live because international humanitarian organizations are providing food for them,” he added.

An estimated 300,000 people have died in Darfur since conflict erupted there in 2003 when local tribes took up arms against al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government in the capital, Khartoum, accusing authorities of years of neglect.

Moreno-Ocampo said the international community needs to act.

“We are dealing with a genocide. Is it easy to stop? No. Do we need to stop? Yes,” he told AP.

“The international community failed in the past, failed to stop Rwanda genocide, failed to stop Balkans crimes,” he added.

There are fears that the fresh Darfur case could spark a backlash against the 9,000-strong U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The prosecutor said it was up to the U.N. Security Council, which asked Moreno-Ocampo in 2005 to investigate crimes in Darfur, to “ensure compliance with the court’s decision.” Achieving unanimous backing for any action will be fraught with problems since two of the council’s members, China and Russia, are Sudan’s allies.

A spokeswoman for the force said it had not suspended any military operations.

“All essential peacekeeping operations are being carried-out by troops,” Shereen Zorba told The Associated Press in an e-mail from Khartoum.

However, she said: “a limited number of operations that carry security risk to civilian staff are temporarily restricted.”

Other international courts have indicted Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor of Liberia while they were in office. Milosevic died in custody in The Hague in 2006 shortly before the end of his trial, while Taylor is on trial for orchestrating atrocities in Sierra Leone.

Article by Mike Corder
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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Amsterdam’s Weed Shops Face New Challenge

June 28, 2008


This city’s famed marijuana bars have weathered many challenges over the years and are still smoking. But now they face an unwelcome blast of fresh air: On July 1, the Netherlands will be one of the last European countries to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in compliance with EU law.

The Health Ministry says the ban will apply to cafes that sell marijuana, known as coffee shops. But this being Holland, which for centuries has experimented with social liberalism, there’s a loophole: The ban covers tobacco but not marijuana, which is technically illegal anyway.

But that still leaves coffee shops and their customers in a bind. Dutch and other European marijuana users traditionally smoke pot in fat, cone-shaped joints mixed with tobacco.

“It’s the world upside down: In other countries they look for the marijuana in the cigarette. Here they look for the cigarette in the marijuana,” said Jason den Enting, manager of coffee shop Dampkring.

Shops are scrambling to adapt. One alternative is “vaporizer” machines, which incinerate weed smokelessly. Another is to replace tobacco with herbs like coltsfoot, a common plant that looks like a dandelion and that smokers describe as tasting a bit like oregano.

But most shops are just planning to increase their sales of hash brownies and pure weed – and are hoping the law isn’t enforced.

Michael Veling, owner of the 4-20 Cafe and a board member of the Cannabis Retailers’ Union, said he expected a small decline in sales as smokers are forced to separate their nicotine addiction from their marijuana habit.

But he expects the long-term effects to be minimal. “It’s absurd to say that coffee shops will go bankrupt in the second week of July. Nonsense,” he said.

Veling is instructing his staff to send tobacco smokers outside, but he doesn’t expect all coffee shops to do the same. He said some owners will ignore the ban – and will probably get away with it, at least for a while.

But “if obeying the smoking ban becomes a condition of renewing your business license, just watch how fast it will happen,” he said. “That’s the way things work.”

Chris Krikken, spokesman for the Food and Wares Authority, charged with enforcing the ban, said his agency won’t be targeting coffee shops in particular.

“For the first month we’ll just be gathering information about compliance in a wide range of hospitality businesses. Depending on what we find, we may focus more squarely on a sector that’s lagging,” he said.

But he said individual businesses caught allowing customers to smoke will be warned and definitely checked again. “Repeat offenders will face escalating fines,” he said.

Marijuana possession is illegal in the Netherlands, but smokers are not prosecuted for holding up to 5 grams. Around 750 cafes – half of them in Amsterdam – are licensed to have up to 500 grams in stock at any one time.

The Dutch “tolerance” policy recognizes that some people will smoke pot regardless of laws, so it might as well happen in an orderly way. Critics complain this encourages substance abuse.

But cannabis abuse in Holland ranks somewhere in the middle compared to other nations and is lower than in the U.S., France and England, according to statistics compiled by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime.

At the same time, the levels of THC – the main active chemical in marijuana – have soared in the past decade and are now at 16 percent in Dutch weed.

The U.S. government sounded the alarm earlier this month because THC in American marijuana has doubled to 9.6 percent since 1983, and it warned of recent scientific findings linking the drug to mental problems.

The Dutch government, currently led by a conservative coalition with a religious bent, is slowly squeezing back the number of coffee shops by not renewing licenses when shops close.

Growers are arrested, leaving coffee shop owners struggling to obtain their main product.

“The rules are being set to pester us out of business one by one, slowly but surely,” said Richard van Velthoven, manager at The Greenhouse, who said he feared being shut down for tobacco violations.

“I’ve taken the cigarette machines out, I’m putting Coltsfoot on the tables, I’ve bought extra vaporizers, the staff is watching out – what more can I do?” he said.

German tourist Lars Schmit said lamented the possible end of an era.

Without coffee shops, he said, “a little bit of Amsterdam will die.”

Originally found @ AssociatedPress.com

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Spike-Lined Pits Discovered in Netherlands

June 9, 2008

This is not the pit in the Netherlands, but the result could be the same
In the Netherlands, a man who was preparing a race course through a park became mildly injured when he fell into a pit lined with sharpened spikes. Police say that this is the third such trap found in the area this year. The pit, five feet deep by 2.5 feet wide was lined with 6-12-inch metal spikes embedded in a concrete block, had been carefully hidden under leaves and branches in a park near Venlo, a town near the German border. While the goal was not clear, the intent of whomever created the pit is clear: to hurt, injure, or kill someone or something. Police spokesperson Nicole Theuns said, “A person could fall into this, but also a dog, a child, people walking, bikers, motorcyclists. . . anybody.”

Fortunately, the man who fell in while setting up the athletics race course managed to avoid the spikes, but suffered a bruised thigh.

Police remain in the dark about who is setting up these death traps.

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