AU Ignores Bashir ICC Arrest Warrants, Human Rights Groups Outraged

06 July 2009

Omar al-Bashir (file photo)
Omar al-Bashir (file photo)
Human rights groups are expressing outrage at the African Union decision to ignore the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. Several African countries are distancing themselves from the AU action.

A joint declaration issued at the end of an African Union summit in Libya said member states would not cooperate in the arrest and surrender of Sudan's president on war crimes charges. Summit host, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was quoted as saying the ICC represents a "new world terrorism".

The declaration puts the 30 AU states of the International Criminal Court at odds with the body's founding principles. It is far less, however, than what Mr. Gadhafi wanted. His earlier attempt to have all African members states withdraw from the ICC in protest was rejected last month.

Nonetheless, it is a symbol of collective African frustration at what AU sees as the refusal of the international community to hear its views on a matter involving Africa. The heads of state at the AU's last summit had asked the U.N. Security Council to use its power to defer the Bashir indictment for one year. The request was denied.

AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping told reporters that the declaration of non-cooperation shows the world that "if you don't listen to Africa, and take our proposals into account, we are going to act unilaterally."

The decision drew dismay from the human rights community.

Richard Dicker, Director of International Justice Programs for Human Rights Watch in New York, calls it a "manipulated consensus".

"It's necessary to put this decision into context," said Richard Dicker. "And, that context involved unprecedented bullying, arm twisting and strong arm tactics by the host state, directed against first the foreign ministers and then the heads of state themselves. This is a product of the Libyan and, I would day, Sudanese effort to railroad a so-called 'consensus'. The evidence of that is manifold."

Several African members of the International Criminal Court say they are uncomfortable with the AU declaration. A statement issued by Botswana's Foreign Minister, Phandu Skelemani, says his country does not agree with the declaration and wishes to reaffirm its position that it has treaty obligations to cooperate with the ICC in Mr. Bashir's arrest.

Sudan's rival, Chad, has also indicated it would not honor the decision.

Human Rights Watch's Richard Dicker says he is especially disappointed to see South Africa joining the consensus, after the government had made a point of saying that Mr. Bashir would not be welcome at the recent inauguration of President Jacob Zuma.

"It's a profound disappointment to see no sign of leadership coming from President Jacob Zuma," he said. "South Africa had played a strong leading role in enabling ICC state parties to organize themselves and stand up for their obligations to the court. President Zuma's silence certainly contradicts that and seems to be an abdication of the leadership role that South Africa could be providing the continent."

A Sudanese government spokesman was quoted Sunday as saying that Mr. Bashir is free to travel anywhere in Africa, even in ICC member states.

But ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo expressed confidence that the Sudanese leader would eventually be brought to justice. Speaking to al-Jazeera television, Ocampo said the destiny of Omar al-Bashir is to face charges - whether it is in two years or 20 years.