Last October, when Sudanese President and wanted war criminal Omar al-Bashir traveled to Malawi he was greeted with a red carpet reception and barely a whisper of protest from the international community. But today Malawi President Joyce Banda asked the African Union to prevent the man charged with genocide from attending the July African Union Summit in Lilongwe, Malawi citing the “economic implications” it may have on the country.
Bashir’s denial is a result of pressure from activists and congressional champions like Representative Frank Wolf and a confirmation that U.S. pressure against Bashir’s travel does work. Following Bashir’s October trip to Malawi, groups like United to End Genocide decried the lack of public response by the U.S. administration, particularly given Malawi’s great reliance on aid. As the October visit approached, United to End Genocide President Tom Andrews said, “It is utterly unconscionable that the government of Malawi plans to welcome Omar al-Bashir into its country.” Representative Frank Wolf called for an end to Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid to Malawi saying that supporting Malawi after the visit would make the United States “complicit in aiding a genocidal government.” U.S. officials reportedly applied diplomatic pressure behind the scenes and in March the MCC Board voted to suspend $350 million in investment to Malawi due to concerns with democratic governance, but also cited the decision to welcome Bashir as further deepening concerns.
Malawi’s change of stance might be attributed to the new president who took office last month after the death of former President Bingu wa Mutharika, but without outside pressure, such a move would not have been likely. As reported by Reuters, Banda told a news conference, “Let the AU decide on his position. He (Bashir) should forgive us this time as we are struggling to fix the economy.”
This affront to Bashir comes at a particularly pressing time given Sudan’s recent fighting with South Sudan and 11 months of atrocity-filled fighting against rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding as Bashir’s regime continues to bomb civilians and deny access to international humanitarian aid. USAID estimates that between 200,000 and 250,000 people in South Kordofan are facing emergency conditions one level below famine and with the rainy season starting the situation is set to get worse. Bashir is already wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in Darfur, but he continues to perpetrate further atrocities today.
Malawi’s earlier allowance of travel for Bashir was particularly egregious given the country’s status as an ICC signatory. But Bashir has also been welcomed into non-ICC signatory countries like Libya and Iraq in recent months.
In order to make denial of travel for Bashir more consistent, members of congress have introduced legislation which provides for sanctions against countries that welcome him without arrest. The Sudan Peace, Security, and Accountability Act, introduced by Representatives Frank Wolf, Jim McGovern, and Michael Capuano also calls for a comprehensive approach to end serious human rights abuses and promote democratic reform in Sudan and demands attention to the humanitarian crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Denying the freedom of Bashir to travel to Malawi is an important point of leverage and confirmation of the difference that U.S. pressure can make. But this pressure must be consistent if the message is to be clear: those who commit genocide are never welcome.
Want to help increase the pressure? Urge your Representative to co-sponsor the Sudan, Peace, Security, and Accountability Act.