Denial of a crime and its cover-up could constitute crimes in themselves, said Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, alluding to the case he was building against Sudanese officials for atrocities committed in Darfur.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo spoke to journalists at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon after briefing the Security Council on situations involving Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and two other high-ranking individuals, for whom arrest warrants had been issued.
"We have arrest warrants issued by the judges, saying that the policy was to commit attacks in these villages, and to commit crimes in the camps. Whoever is making a voluntary contribution to these crimes could be prosecuted", he said, confirming that Heads of State received no immunity.
Similarly, there was no immunity for those claiming to have followed orders, or for those who had participated in a cover-up, he added.
He had earlier told members of the Security Council that his Office was considering the criminal responsibility of Sudanese officials who actively denied and dissimulated their crimes. However, when asked by a journalist to explain what he meant by "denial", Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said he would reserve his exact argument for the judges.
The same journalist had questioned whether the argument was too broad, and whether it would constitute an abuse of power by the Court. It was common, after all, for visiting officials at United Nations Headquarters to appear before the media to deny wrongdoing, as Sri Lankan officials had done at the end of their Government's war with the Tamil Tigers, the correspondent said.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo countered: "Abuse of power was when a President of a country killed citizens."
On guilt by speech, he alluded to the case of Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda, where radio hate speech was used to argue the station manager's guilt for genocide. By extension, he said that President Bashir managed an entire State, using other people to attack civilians and finance such crimes, and also used people to cover up those crimes. Those who participated voluntarily in such activities could, potentially, be held criminally responsible.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo stressed the primacy of national authorities to bring perpetrators to justice, saying that former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa -- who had worked on behalf of the African Union to prepare a panel report on the Court's cases relating to the Sudan -- had emphasized the Court's limited capacity to prosecute people.
But, he said President Mbeki had also been clear on the need for accountability. He had been clear, as well, on the need for greater protection of witnesses. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said that, if witnesses were to be used in the Sudanese cases, they would most certainly be attacked.
Of the individuals charged by the Court, two were currently evading arrest and only one, Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, had appeared before the Court to hear his charges. Journalists asked whether Mr. Moreno-Ocampo thought Abu Garda, accused of being involved in the attack on peacekeepers at Haskanita, would actually take part in a proper trial, receiving the response: it would be a "good test of his leadership".
The Prosecutor also fielded questions about allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israel. When asked, he offered no confirmation of reports that he had been invited by Hamas to advise on the legality of a Hamas-led investigation into attacks in Gaza this January. But, he admitted to working closely with the Arab League on the matter, which had helped finance the fact-finding Goldstone mission.
He also told correspondents that the Court had recently received the approval of the Palestinian Minister of Justice to engage on the Gaza issue, but explained that it was still unclear whether the Court had any jurisdiction over any cases that might arise. In normal criminal cases within the Palestinian Territory, arrested Israelis must be handed over to Israeli authorities.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo noted that it was his duty to promote national investigations, adding that the Goldstone Report had also emphasized the need for national judiciaries to act when needed.
"Leaders had responsibilities, not privileges", he said. "I believe Hamas leaders calling for an investigation themselves was an important step."
Along those lines, he said it was a mistake for President Bashir and Ahmad Harun, former Minister of the Interior and the third individual wanted by the International Criminal Court, to refuse cooperation with the Court.
He explained that by agreeing to the Rome Statute, States were establishing a model in which they and the Court could act together. For instance, in becoming State parties to the Statute, countries such as Afghanistan, Kenya, Colombia and the Congo were providing the Court with jurisdiction. But he could not investigate cases in Iraq, which was not a State party.
Part of his work was to determine which situations merited investigation, he said, which he did by analysing information received from everyday civilians, non-governmental organizations and the media. He admitted to receiving serious reports of crimes committed in Afghanistan, and, although he did not specify what they were, explained that the Court was "trying to get more information about Taliban crimes".
He added that the Court was following the situation of violence in Guinea, and had received information on it. Guinea was a State party to the Rome Statute.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said his mandate was scheduled to end in 2012, but he hinted at a reform that would allow the mandate to be expanded. Japan was one of the Court's biggest contributors, which one journalist noted had announced plans to introduce changes to the Prosecutor's terms of office.
For information media - not an official record