September 20, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The Sudanese foreign minister, Ali Ahmed Karti, has arrived in New York to attend the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
- Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir attends on July 15, 2013 the opening session of the African Union Summit on health focusing on HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Abuja (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
A diplomatic source told Sudan’s official news agency (SUNA) that the application made by the Sudanese president, Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, to obtain entry visa to the US is still standing, demanding that the US administration meet its obligations as the UN headquarters state.
On Monday, the US state department said it received a visa application for Bashir to attend the 68th session of the UNGA, noting that he should not make such a trip because he is accused of war crimes and genocide by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
But the Sudanese government said that Bashir’s visit would be to the UN headquarters and not to the United States itself which does not have any legal right to object to the participation of any official from any country enjoying full membership of the international organization in the UN activities.
The pro-government, Al-Sudani newspaper, said on Friday that Bashir has obtained clearance of all countries which he will fly through his way to New York to participate in the UNGA’s 68th session.
The newspaper further said that the foreign ministry has received a promise from the US embassy to grant Bashir an entry visa within the next couple of days.
On Thursday, the US state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Bashir’s visa application is still pending review.
The US official however, revealed for the first time that the 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," she said in response to questions by reporters during daily press briefing.
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.’’
The visa issue has attracted controversy placing the US, a non-signatory to the ICC’s Rome statute, in the spotlight.
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 UN 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.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REACTS
Amnesty International, in a statement issued Friday, said member states of UNGA must demand that Al-Bashir surrenders to ICC where he faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“Despite the ICC arrest warrants against the President, two other government officials and an alleged Janjaweed militia leader, they are all being protected by the Sudanese government which is refusing to cooperate with the Court,” said Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of law and policy at Amnesty International.
Sudan’s decision to send a person accused of orchestrating these most serious crimes to attend the UN General Assembly, he added, is a grave insult to the thousands of people unlawfully killed, millions displaced and countless women and children raped in Darfur over the last decade.