Egypt, already suspect in its human rights record, has added yet another glaring blight to its international standing as it welcomed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over the weekend for an economic summit.
Despite the fact that Darfur is suffering a massive wave of violence, with 100,000 people driven from their homes in the first weeks of 2016, Egyptian President el-Sisi chose to entertain Bashir at the African Trade and Investment Forum. The latest violence isn’t an anomaly. Over the last two years, Darfur has experienced the highest levels of violence and displacement since the height of the genocide over a decade ago. Millions have remained displaced over that period of time and hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost.
Since 2004, the violence in Darfur has been a central issue for the UN Security Council. The UN peacekeeping mission there is the second largest in the world and the international community has invested billions in aid to care for millions of people who have been forced from their homes. Yet, after welcoming Bashir, Egypt will assume the Presidency of the Security Council this May.
Instead of welcoming Bashir, Egypt should have upheld the warrants for his arrest by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. While Egypt is not a member of the Court, it was the UN Security Council that referred Bashir to the Court and all members have an obligation to uphold Bashir’s warrant.
But, in the wake of this visit, the United States and other members of the Security Council have been virtually silent.
Failure of the United States to denounce Egypt’s deepening relationship with a man wanted on charges of genocide, adds fire to criticisms that the United States is too cozy with the Egyptian government and unwilling to stand up for human rights.
The United States has expressed at least some concern over the recent uptick in violence but has said nothing about Bashir’s visit. This, despite the fact that this is the third time Egypt has welcomed Bashir in the last three years, giving Egypt the odious distinction of being one of his most frequented foreign destinations. Similarly, as critics point out, the U.S. stance on grave human rights abuses in Egypt has been muted.
Some may argue that the relationship is complicated, with the United States needing counter-terrorism cooperation with Egypt or having limited leverage anyway. But as Shadi Hamid, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution pointed out at a Congressional Hearing in November 2015, the United States does still enjoy “significant leverage” with Egypt including weapons sales and aid along with diplomatic relations including a strategic dialogue that began last August.
If stopping genocide matters to the United States and the UN Security Council, they must be willing to act when countries like Egypt engage with leaders accused of genocide. Ignoring Bashir’s crimes and allowing him to commit them with impunity will only lead to new waves of violence in a region that has suffered far too much already.