The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC) reversed a decision on Wednesday that prosecutors had not provided enough evidence to charge Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with genocide.
Appeals judges ruled that the ICC's pre-trial chamber must re-examine whether the president should be charged with the crime. He already faces seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, extermination, torture and rape.
"It was a legal error to reject the genocide charges against President al-Bashir," said prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in a press statement. Moreno-Ocampo said he intended to present new evidence to the court in a second bid to have Bashir charged with genocide, warning that the president needed to "get a lawyer."
"Expelling humanitarian assistance is a great element of his genocidal intentions," Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters.
Legal observers said Wednesday's decision brought the prospect of a charge of genocide a step closer, though the ruling to add genocide to the list could take months.
Bashir: 'all lies'
Sudanese officials objected to the ruling. "This procedure of the ICC is only to stop the efforts of the Sudanese government towards elections and a peaceful exchange of power," Rabie Abdelati, a senior information ministry official, told Reuters in Khartoum.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir, the first ever issued against a sitting head of state, in March 2009 for war crimes in Darfur. At the time, the court said there were insufficient grounds to issue a warrant for genocide.
Bashir described the ICC warrant against him as "all lies" last year and responded by ordering foreign aid agencies out of Sudan. Relations between the international community and the Sudanese president and his allies have since deteriorated.
Estimates vary widely on how many people have died in the Darfur conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. The United Nations says more than 300,000 have died and 2.5 million displaced by the conflict. The Sudanese government claims only around 10,000 have died.
The ICC's ruling comes as Sudan is preparing for its first democratic presidential election in 24 years, scheduled to start April 11. Desperate to legitimize himself in the wake of the ICC warrant, Bashir has pursued alliances with three other leading parties. Observers say support from any one of these parties would likely return Bashir to the presidential palace.
Editor: Nancy Isenson