September 19, 2013 (WASHINGTON) - The United States on Thursday said that a visa application submitted by Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir to travel to United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) next is still pending review.
- A view of the General Assembly meeting in New York. (Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)
The US official however, revealed for the first time that the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant issued for Bashir on alleged war crimes will be a factor in deciding his visa request.
"I don’t have any update for you. There are a variety of considerations in play with respect to President Bashir’s visa request, including the outstanding warrant for his arrest," US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in response to questions by reporters during daily press briefing.
"We’re not going to sort through these considerations publicly. We’re going to continue to do so privately and deliberately," she added.
She refused to speculate on whether the US can heed to a request by the ICC judges for arresting the Sudanese leader upon arrival.
"There are a lot of legal questions here. This is what I know: That generally speaking, because the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the obligations that apply to member-states do not necessarily apply to us. Again, that’s generally speaking," Harf said.
Ahead of the referral eight years ago, the US, which has been a staunch opponent of the court, sought to veto Darfur’s ICC referral in a standoff with European members on the council led by France but later decided to abstain after ensuring that a clause is added protecting non-signatories from the court’s reach and ensuring it is not funded by the council.
The ICC Pre-Trial chamber, in a decision issued Wednesday, said it had ‘‘… invited the competent US authorities to arrest Omar Al Bashir and surrender him to the Court, in the event he enters their territory.’’
On March 4 March 2009 and 12 July 2010, the Hague-based court said it ‘‘transmitted requests’’ for Bashir’s arrest to all United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members, which includes the US, Russia, China, Great Britain and France.
The Security Council is one of the key organs of the UN charged with maintenance of international peace and security. Its members that have not signed or ratified the Rome Statue which established the ICC meaning the ICC has no jurisdiction over them. But the countries can ’’decide to cooperate with the Court on an ad hoc basis,’’ said the ICC statement.
In New York, the UN Secretary General said the decision on whether to grant a visa to Bashir rests with the US but called on the Sudanese president to answer charges against him by ICC.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday issued a statement accusing Washington of protecting Israel and violators of human rights and directing the ICC to indict African leaders who are democratically elected by their people.
It also said that the US has no option but to grant Bashir a visa under the headquarters agreement with the UN.
The independent al-Khartoum newspaper, quoted presidential sources as saying that Washington asked a "major African country" to urge Bashir to stay away and withdraw his visa application.
The visa issue has attracted controversy placing the US, a non-signatory to the ICC’s Rome statute, in the spot light.
The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the members of the United Nations to publicly oppose attendance at its General Assembly by Bashir.
“If al-Bashir turns up at the UN General Assembly, it will be a brazen challenge to Security Council efforts to promote justice for crimes in Darfur,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice program director at HRW.
“The last thing the UN needs is a visit by an ICC fugitive”, she added.
On Thursday, a group of Hollywood actors and activists wrote a letter to Obama urging him to block Bashir’s attendance.
"While we recognize that the U.S. government is obliged to facilitate President Bashir’s visit under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, we urge you to do everything in your power to prevent the trip," it said.
The letter suggested a number of steps to discourage the Sudanese president from visiting.
The signatories including George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Mia Farrow and Omer Ismail and John Prendergast of the Enough Project said that the US Department of Justice should " explore filing a criminal case against him under 18 USC 1091".
"This law, which codifies the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007, allows for anyone present in the United States to be prosecuted for genocide, even if their crimes were committed abroad" the letter reads in part.
"By publicly raising the threat of such a prosecution and the specter that President Bashir’s privileges and immunities may not extend to genocidal acts, your administration would make an important statement about the U.S. government’s commitment to atrocity prevention and accountability".
"Declaring that the U.S. will only offer the Sudanese delegation the minimum amount of protection mandated by the UN Headquarters Agreement could also affect the Sudanese government’s decision making process… Limiting the number of visas granted to President Bashir’s security detail and imposing specific geographic constraints on those visas could also circumscribe the delegation’s mobility and raise the reputational costs of the trip" it adds.
"In the event that President Bashir remains steadfast in his intent to travel to United Nations headquarters despite these actions, there are a number of steps that can be taken to impede his travel. Our diplomatic corps should encourage countries along President Bashir’s planned flight path to refuse landing rights for his aircraft for refueling and restrict access to their airspace. The U.S. delegation to the United Nations and Ambassador Samantha Power should also encourage senior UN officials and delegations from other countries to publicly refuse to meet with President Bashir or his delegation. Drawing on the precedent set by a similar rejection of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad in 2011, our diplomats could also coordinate a walk-out of the UN General Assembly session in protest of President Bashir’s presence".
Several U.N. diplomats told Reuters they were surprised by Bashir’s request to come to the United States. One Latin American ambassador said it was a "travesty of international justice."
ICC member countries are obligated, under the Rome Statute, to cooperate with the world court in arresting of suspects.
In the past, however, many countries, both members and non-members of the Hague-based court have avoided hosting the Sudanese leader, whose visit to the US or UN will be the first-ever for any individual indicted by the ICC for war crimes.