The man is not short of distractive plans to interrupt the international community. In the past month, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted on charges of genocide, threatened to attend the United Nations General Assembly as an unwelcomed guest and faced international condemnation for his brutal crackdown on the largest protests against his two and a half decades in power. Dozens have been killed and hundreds remain detained. Now he’s at it again.
While the turmoil in Sudan continues, Bashir is planning to travel to Ethiopia to participate in a special African Union summit scheduled this weekend that could lead to a mass withdrawal of African nations from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The movement for withdrawal is being led by Uganda and Kenya, whose current President and Deputy President are facing charges of crimes against humanity in an ICC case investigating post-election violence in 2007 that killed more than 1,000 people. Kenya’s parliament voted on September 5th to leave the ICC and Uganda’s National Assembly has taken steps to do so as well. Wanted by the ICC, Bashir is heading to the Summit to support their efforts.
African civil society isn’t sitting quiet. One hundred and sixty-three civil society organizations from 36 African countries issued a joint letter demanding that African leaders uphold their legal obligation by continuing to support the ICC. In addition, Arshibishop Desmond Tutu who represents one of the strongest African voices in support for the ICC said:
“The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the world’s first and only global court to adjudicate crimes against humanity. But leaders of Sudan and Kenya, who have inflicted terror and fear across their countries, are trying to drag Africa out of the ICC, allowing them the freedom to kill, rape, and inspire hatred without consequences.”
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of Ghana similarly has supported the court saying, “If they fight the ICC, vote against the ICC, withdraw their cases, it will be a badge of shame for each and every one of them and for their countries.”
Despite opponents depictions of the ICC being a new form of western imperialism over African countries, African’s are actually highly represented in the court. As Archbishop Tutu points out 5 of the court’s 18 judges and the chief prosecutor are African. While the cases before the ICC have focused exclusively on Africa, this is largely due to self-referral to the ICC by African countries themselves. Of the eight current investigations in Africa, four (Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Mali) were self-referred and two (Darfur and Libya) were referred by the UN Security Concil with full support by its African members.
It is also important to remember that the ICC was formed as a court of last resort only to be used when domestic structures are lacking. As Annan said, “If African victims can get justice at home and we have credible courts and they do take action, there’ll be no need for [the] ICC.”
Ethiopia is not a party to the ICC and thus, has no legal obligation to arrest Bashir should be enter into their territory. However, the ICC Pre trial Chamber 11 has invited countries to cooperate on the basis of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1593 which referred the case of Darfur to the court and urged all UN members to fully cooperate with the pursuit of Bashir.
Following the AU summit, Bashir plans to extend his time abroad to attend the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. In August of this year, Saudi Arabia denied Bashir access to its air space as he traveled to Iran. It remains unclear whether Bashir will be welcome in Saudi Arabia this time around.
Both countries should respect the invitation by the ICC to deny al-Bashir entrance into their territory or arrest him if he arrives. We urge Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia to bring an international fugitive to justice. And we urge the members of the African Union to heed the calls of African civil society and victims of crimes against humanity to continue to support the last resort for justice in the ICC.