Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir’s request for a visa to travel to the United Nation General Assembly’s 68th session, currently underway in New York, has prompted global outcry and calls for him to be arrested and handed over to the International Criminal Court.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, condemned the request as disrespectful.
“I join the Department of State and the much of the international community in condemning Sudanese President al-Bashir’s request,” Cardin said in a statement. “President al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and must answer to these accusations. He has proven once again that he has no respect for the international community and the norms that we hold dear.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a U.S. representative to the UN General Assembly, echoed those sentiments.
“President Omar al-Bashir, the only sitting president with an outstanding arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, continues to defy the international community and evade arrest,” she stated. “His planned travel to New York City is blatantly disrespectful of international norms, and before he attempts to travel to UN headquarters, he should head to the Hague to answer for genocide and crimes against humanity.”
In 2009 and 2010, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for al-Bashir, who was indicted for the atrocities committed against the people of Darfur, Sudan by government forces and their allied Janjaweed militia during a multi-year conflict. On Sept. 18, the PreTrial Chamber issued a decision on al-Bashir’s request and said it had ‘‘invited the competent US authorities to arrest Omar Al Bashir and surrender him to the Court, in the event he enters their territory.’’
Meanwhile, human rights groups are piling on their own pressures.
“Sudan’s decision to send a person accused of orchestrating these most serious crimes to attend the UN General Assembly is a grave insult to the thousands of people unlawfully killed, millions displaced and countless women and children raped in Darfur over the last decade,” Amnesty International Deputy Director of Law and Policy Tawanda Hondora said in a statement.
“It is repugnant for al-Bashir to be given an opportunity to thumb his nose at the international community and the victims of deplorable crimes committed by Sudanese forces and others in Darfur,” she added. “Members of the General Assembly must stand up on behalf of Darfuri victims to condemn this impunity.”
U.S. State Department officials said Sept. 19 that al-Bashir’s request is still pending review, and acknowledged that the warrants for his alleged war crimes will be a deciding factor.
“There are a variety of considerations in play with respect to President Bashir’s visa request, including the outstanding warrant for his arrest,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a daily press briefing. However, she added, “We’re not going to sort through these considerations publicly. We’re going to continue to do so privately and deliberately.”
Harf resisted calls for further details, including speculation about whether the U.S. would accede to the ICC’s request to detain and surrender al-Bashir.
“There are a lot of legal questions here. This is what I know: That generally speaking, because the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the obligations that apply to member-states do not necessarily apply to us. Again, that’s generally speaking,” Harf said.
The U.S. has been a staunch opponent of the ICC and abstained from voting on al-Bashir’s referral to that court.
On March 6, 2009 and July 21, 2010, the ICC “transmitted requests” for the suspect’s arrest and surrender to all United Nations Security Council members, which include the U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain and France. Though the Security Council is the UN’s organ for maintaining international peace and security, none of its members signed the Rome Statue which established the ICC, meaning they are not subject to the Court. However, the ICC statement read, the countries can ’’decide to cooperate with the Court on an ad hoc basis.’’
In a Sept. 18 statement, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the U.S.—as the UN’s headquarters state—has no legal right to bar the participation of any official from any full member state in the General Assembly, according to an interpretation of the statement by AllAfrica.com.
The statement went on to condemn the U.S. as being hypocritical—citing the war in Iraq as evidence of the U.S.’ own alleged “crimes against humanity” and its defense of Israel, whom the Sudanese government called “the biggest perpetrator of human rights violations, crimes against humanity and the unprecedented war crimes.” The statement also said the situation reflects the “U.S. administration aim to humiliate the African leaders and peoples.”