October 7, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir will travel this week to Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia for the first time since the outbreak of some of the worst protests to engulf the country in recent years.
- Sudanese president Omer Al-Bashir speaks during a press conference in Khartoum on 22 September 2013 (Photo ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)
Al-Youm al-Tali newspaper said that Bashir will participate in an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa which is due to start on Friday.
The two-day summit, pushed for by Kenya and Uganda, will seek to convince other African nations to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Nairobi has lobbied African nations over the last year to have cases against president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto dropped.
Both men face charges of crimes against humanity in connection with 2007-2008 post-election violence. Ruto’s hearing is already underway and Kenyatta’s is scheduled for November.
The violence erupted after allegations of electoral fraud following the announcement that Mwai Kibaki had won the majority of votes for the presidency against his main rival Raila Odinga.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan brokered a power-sharing deal between the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) headed by Odinga and the Party National Unity (PNU) led by Kibaki.
Both sides agreed that perpetrators of the violence should be brought to justice, with a commission of inquiry formed to investigate the violence recommending those responsible should be tried in Kenya or The Hague.
The ICC intervened after the Kenyan parliament shot down several attempts to establish a local tribunal, with many MPs saying they wanted the cases investigated by The Hague.
Kibaki and Odinga gave the ICC prosecutor the green light to initiate prosecutions in late 2009 without making an explicit referral.
However, once the ICC prosecutor named the suspects he wanted judges to charge, the Kenyan government announced its intention to request a deferral pursuant to Article 16 of the Rome statute which allows the UN Security Council (UNSC) to suspend the court’s process in a specific case for 12 months that can be renewed indefinitely.
After Kenyatta and Ruto won subsequent presidential elections, they pushed the AU to issue a resolution to drop the case or refer the case back to Kenyan courts. However, the ICC judges can only refer the cases if similar charges are brought against the pair in Kenyan courts.
Last month, the Kenyan parliament voted to pull out of the ICC, but legal experts said the move would not halt the ongoing cases against the two men.
African nations have persistently accused the Hague-based court of targeting Africans for prosecutions.
The ICC has opened investigations into eight cases, all of which are in Africa, including Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), Darfur, Kenya, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.
Five of the eight cases were referred voluntarily by the African governments in question; two through a UNSC resolution supported by the bulk of African members in the council at the time and one was opened at the ICC prosecutor’s request.
Several major countries in African have indicated that they have no plans to withdraw from the court, including South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana, Ivory Coast and Zambia.
The Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in statements this month that he informed the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson that his country will boycott the meeting, emphasising that there are a lot of dictators in Africa who are committing crimes.
Marzouki also disclosed that he has been in talks with several African leaders to discourage them from withdrawing from the ICC.
TRIP TO SAUDI ARABIA
Following the Addis Ababa summit, Bashir is reported to be heading to Saudi Arabia to make the Hajj pilgrimage on Sunday.
Relations between the two countries have soured after Saudi Arabian civil aviation authorities blocked a plane carrying Bashir from passing its airspace on his way to Iran to attend the presidential inauguration ceremony of Hassan Rouhani in August.
Riyadh emphasised that Khartoum did not obtain prior clearance for the flight, but Sudanese officials insist they followed all required procedures.
Notably neither the Saudi royal court nor its foreign ministry made any comment on the issue, instead letting Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) handle the fall-out.
The Sudanese government later sought to downplay the issue for fear of alienating the major political and financial power, analysts say.
Some observers speculated that Sudan’s growing ties with Iran could have irked the Saudis prompting them to block Bashir’s flight, but Riyadh denied the incident was politically motivated.
Another potential issue of tension was averted this month when the Sudanese foreign ministry distanced itself from pro-government columnists who accused Saudi Arabia of backing the fuel subsidies protests.
On Monday, Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti received the Saudi ambassador in Khartoum, Faisal Bin Hamed Mualla, where they discussed bilateral relations, state media said.
Karti affirmed Sudan’s desire to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, thanking Riyadh for its assistance following recent floods that hit the country.