Sudan Strikes Back at U.S. Criticism, Accusing U.S. of War Crimes

By Patrick Goodenough | September 18, 2013 | 5:10 AM EDT

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, seen here at a July 2012 African Union summit in Ethiopia, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He has applied for a visa to visit New York next week for the U.N. General Assembly session. (AP Photo/Elias Asmare)

( – Sudan’s Islamist government hit back Tuesday at U.S. criticism of plans by its war crimes-indicted president to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, saying the U.S. has a “known record in committing war crimes and genocide” and is not qualified to “offer sermons and advice” on human rights.

State media quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abu-Bakr Al-Sideeg as saying not only had the U.S. committed war crimes in Iraq, but it was “also the protector and supporter of the biggest violator of human rights and perpetrator of crimes against humanity and war crimes, the worst ever in the world, which is Israel.”

He said Sudan had applied for a visa for President Omar al-Bashir and members of his delegation to visit New York for the high-level segment of the General Assembly’s annual session next week, and to participate in a meeting on the U.N. sidelines with other African Union (A.U.) leaders. He demanded that a visa be issued “as soon as possible.”

Sideeg was reacting to criticism by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who was asked on Monday about the planned visit.

“President Bashir, as you know, stands accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court,” Power said. “Such a trip would be deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate.”

“It would be more appropriate for him to present himself to the ICC and travel to The Hague,” she added.

Under the 1947 United Nations Headquarters Act, foreign delegates are permitted unimpeded access to a demarcated “headquarters district” in New York City. As a result U.S. administrations have issued visas even to some of America’s most hostile critics.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited for the annual session each of the eight years of his two terms as president, and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was also a frequent attendee, notoriously using the platform in 2006 to call President Bush “the devil.” In 2008, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe used his speech in New York to call the U.S. and Britain “perpetrators of genocide, acts of aggression and mass destruction” in Iraq.

Unlike even those despots, however, Bashir faces an ICC indictment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, arising from the conflict in Darfur, which the U.S. and rights groups say cost more than 200,000 lives.

Although the U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, it has joined calls for countries that are to cooperate with the tribunal in bringing suspects to trial. President Obama for instance personally criticized Kenya in 2010 for allowing Bashir to visit, although as a Rome Statute party Kenya was expected to cooperate with an ICC request to arrest him.

(Kenya’s parliament recently voted to withdraw from the ICC, protesting indictments for Kenya’s president and deputy president, who deny charges of crimes against humanity arising out of post-election violence in 2007. Thirty-four African countries have signed the Rome Statute, but the A.U. is considering an en bloc exit from the ICC, angered that the court’s prosecutors have so far indicted only Africans.)

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that the department had received a visa request for Bashir.

“We condemn any potential effort by President Bashir to travel to New York, given that he stands accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. We would say that before presenting himself to U.N. headquarters, President Bashir should present himself to the ICC in The Hague to answer for the crimes of which he’s been accused.”

She declined to comment on specific details of the application, or to address the issue of whether the U.S. could arrest him if he arrives.

“I don’t want to venture any more guesses as to what might happen hypothetically if he comes here.”

Despite the U.N. Headquarters Act obligations, there is a precedent for a visa refusal.  In 1988, the Reagan administration denied PLO chairman Yasser Arafat a visa to attend the General Assembly, citing his “associations with terrorism.” (The General Assembly responded by voting to hold a special session in Geneva, which Arafat addressed.)

In 1987 the U.S. refused to issue to allow entry to Austrian President (and former U.N. secretary-general) Kurt Waldheim over his Nazi past, even though as a head of state he would have diplomatic immunity.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow