Defying International Criminal Court, Arab Leaders Welcome Sudan’s President

By Patrick Goodenough | March 30, 2009 | 4:47 AM EDT

Qatari leader Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani welcomes Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at Doha airport on Sunday, March 29, 2009. (AP Photo)

( – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday was scheduled to address a gathering of Arab leaders despite the presence of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whose participation in the meeting in Qatar is in defiance of an international arrest warrant.
Bashir’s visit to the Gulf state for the two-day Arab League summit is his fourth foreign trip since the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on March 4 formally accused him of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his country's Darfur region, issuing its first arrest warrant for a presiding head of state.
The governments that have hosted him – Eritrea, Egypt, Libya and now Qatar – oppose the ICC warrant as does the 22-member Arab League, although three of its members, Jordan, Djibouti and Comoros, are parties to the convention that established the ICC, the Rome Statute.
Countries that are parties to the Rome Statute are obliged to arrest ICC indictees in their jurisdiction.
Most of the remaining members of the Arab League have signed, but not yet ratified, the Rome Statute. As such, argue international law advocates, they are obliged under well-established international convention to “refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose” of the statute.
Citing that convention, Arab human rights and legal advocates last week urged Egypt to arrest Bashir during his brief official visit to Cairo – to no avail.
The summit in Doha is expected to endorse a statement, drafted earlier and approved Saturday by foreign ministers, rejecting the arrest warrant.
The U.N. estimates that up to 300,000 people have died as a result of the fighting and conflict-related conditions since fighting broke out between African rebels and the Arab-dominated government and allied militias in 2003. Another 2.7 million have been made homeless.
Bashir responded to the ICC decision by expelling 13 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which were together providing aid to more than four million people in Darfur.
Qatari media said Bashir was given a “red carpet welcome” on his arrival, embraced at Doha’s international airport by the country’s leader, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, another summit participant, said Sunday the ICC represented a new form of Western “terrorism” against developing countries. Echoing other Arab and Islamic figures, he asked why Israeli and U.S. leaders were not indicted for actions in the Palestinian territories and Iraq.
In his statements on the ICC decision regarding Bashir, Ban has stressed that the tribunal is independent of the U.N.
Nonetheless, it was the U.N. Security Council that in 2005 referred the Darfur crisis to the tribunal. The Bush administration, though it rejected the ICC, chose to abstain rather than veto resolution 1593, thus paving the way for the investigation to go ahead. (The U.S. and Israel “unsigned” the ICC treaty because of concerns about politically motivated prosecutions and the potential impact on national sovereignty.)
Resolution 1593 urged Sudan, and all states and international organizations, to cooperate with the court. Under the U.N. Charter, Security Council resolutions are binding on all U.N. member states.
‘Unaccountable power’
Bashir’s travels despite being a fugitive from “international justice” have underlined the ineffectiveness of an ICC arrest warrant in the absence of strong international backing, and groups supporting the ICC have been left with little option other than to protest.
“By declaring that President Bashir has immunity from the arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the [Arab] League has undermined international law which provides no such immunity for anyone, even a serving head of state, for such grave crimes,” said Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan.
She said Amnesty International supported the Arab demands for “international justice” following Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip. “They should apply a similar standard to crimes committed in Sudan.”
Khartoum and some of Bashir’s backers like Gaddafi have accused the ICC of an anti-developing world bias, noting that prosecutors have opened investigations into just four situations, all in Africa – the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, the Central African Republic and Darfur.
ICC supporters, on the other hand, point out that in three of those cases, it was the governments of the countries concerned that referred the cases to the ICC in 2003-2004.
The governments of DRC, Central African Republic and Uganda, all parties to the Rome Statute, “recognized the lack of capacity of their national courts to address the grave acts occurring on their territory and subsequently requested that the court open investigations,” the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a global network of more than 2,500 NGOs, argued this month.
American Enterprise Institute senior fellow John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., argues that even though the Sudanese leader is probably guilty of the charges brought by the ICC, “Bashir’s evil … does not justify the ICC’s indictment.”
“The ICC is a potentially huge source of unaccountable power, exercising the weighty executive authority of prosecution, and the enormous judicial power of trial and sentencing, all without the slightest accountability to real people or their elected representatives,” he wrote in the Italian newspaper Liberal on Friday.
“The most logical answer to Bashir's murderous ways is not to indict him from the safety of The Hague, but to empower the Sudanese and others to overthrow him,” Bolton said. “Then, with new, legitimate authorities in place, the Sudanese could themselves deal with Bashir and hold him accountable for the crimes he has long committed in their name.”
Whether the Sudanese people chose to try him or seek some process of national reconciliation, he said, that was their decision to make.
“Removing the decision from them nurtures false but superficially appealing charges of ‘Western imperialism,’ and ultimately impedes Sudan’s own political development.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow