26 Mar 2009

Sudan: Bashir travels, defying ICC

Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir must be on Red Bull – or maybe it just takes an indictment from the International Criminal Court to give you wings.

Eritrea on Monday. Yesterday, embraced by President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Today, it was reported he was off to Ethiopia, before he actually turned up in Libya for talks with Muammar Gaddafi. (See map here.)

Talk about brazen defiance… and the court, with no enforcement officials to go and make its arrests, seemingly impotent, with just 108 of 192 countries which are members of the United Nations signed up to its jurisprudence. Needless to say, Libya isn’t among them.

Eritrea, Egypt and Ethiopia are not listed under “E” in the ICC’s list of members.

And neither is the Emirate of Qatar, host to next week’s Arab League summit, which has also invited Bashir to drop in. Yesterday, the Qatari foreign minister said the Emirate had come under pressure not to invite him, before saying the seemingly contradictory line: “We respect international law and we respect the presence of Bashir in Qatar.

This apparently conflicted view may reflect the polarised positions of the Arab world and the West on this matter.  The Arab League has rejected the ICC’s request to arrest Bashir.  Check out the comments below this report on the satellite network al-Arabiya.

The Qatari foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, wouldn’t be drawn on who’d put this pressure on Qatar, although there’s speculation that the United States, which has a huge military base there, might have been doing some heavy leaning.

Strangely enough, the United States and Qatar were among only seven countries to actually vote against the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 1998. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Obama administration is reviewing its position on the ICC, but it’s not beyond the US to co-operate with the international court if it suits its interests. A case of “realpolitik de jure”.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, promised when the arrest warrant was granted that “it could take two months or two years, but he will face justice.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” writes British legal commentator, Joshua Rozenberg in the April edition of Standpoint magazine . He says Moreno-Ocampo is “prone to wishful thinking.”

I called the ICC for a comment on all this, and they weren’t too forthcoming – simply saying that “the office of the prosecutor is monitoring his movements”. “We are aware,” I was told.

In December 2007, the ICC tried to arrest another indicted Sudanese official, the minister for humanitarian affairs, Ahmad Harun, by forcing his plane to land. But he was tipped off.

In an interview with Moreno-Ocampo in its 30 March edition, Newsweek quotes the prosecutor as saying: “We believe that as soon as Bashir travels in international airspace he could be arrested. We would try to organise that, yes. We did it once, we’d try to do it again.”

Watch this airspace. It’s a long way from Khartoum to Doha.

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