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Zambia says Sudanese president should not fear arrest on its territory

December 11, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – The Zambian government today announced that the Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir is free to attend a regional summit on its territory without having to fear being arrested.

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Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir (Reuters)

Bashir was first charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC in 2009 and the court added three genocide charges in July this year.

“There is no question of whether Mr. Al-Bashir will be arrested or not, Zambia is a member of the African Union and the AU says he has not been found guilty on those crimes so he will not be arrested,” Lieutenant General Ronnie Shikapwasha, who is also Minister of Information and Broadcasting told Hot Fm news in Lusaka today according to the ‘Lusaka Times’.

Shikapwasha urged all organizations and media institutions that still wanted to make further inquiries on the matter to write to State House.

‘Zambian Watchdog’ website said that a number of African leaders confirmed their attendance at the summit but it was not clear if Bashir was one of them.

Last Sunday, Sudan official news agency (SUNA) said that Bashir received an invitation from his Zambian counterpart Rupiah Banda to participate in the Special Summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGR) which is scheduled to take place in Lusaka on December 15.

The Zambian presidency said later that it is premature to talk about arresting Bashir since he did not confirm attendance at the summit. SUNA had reported that Zambian envoy who met Bashir as saying that the latter “responded positively” to the invitation.

Zambia along with all other states that are signatories of the Rome Statute, the founding text of the court, are obliged to arrest the Sudanese president should he set foot on their territories.

However, the African Union (AU) issued a resolution requiring its members not to cooperate with the ICC in apprehending Bashir even if they are ICC members.

Chad and Kenya used the resolution this year to justify allowing the Sudanese head of state to visit without arresting him.

But some African states such as South Africa, Uganda and Botswana have declared that Bashir is liable for arrest if he visits despite the AU decision. Even Kenya ducked out of hosting an event the Sudanese president was to attend in October and opted to move it to Ethiopia to avoid international criticism.

Last week Bashir was forced to cancel appearance at independence celebrations in the Central African Republic (CAR), another ICC member, after diplomatic pressure from France.

On Wednesday, the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo officially notified the Pre-Trial Chamber I that Bashir might attempt to travel to two ICC states namely Senegal and Zambia.

“Public statements and publications have suggested that Omar Al Bashir intends to visit the Republic of Senegal in the period between 10 – 31 December 2010 and the Republic of Zambia on 15 December 2010” Ocampo said in his filing dated December 8th.

“The Prosecution believes, in line with earlier submissions to the Chamber that this information may be of interest to the Chamber. The Prosecution will submit any additional confirmation it receives of Omar Al Bashir’s planned visits to the Republic of Senegal and the Republic of Zambia”.

A United Nations Security Council (UNSC) diplomat told Agence France Presse (AFP) that Zambia’s position on Bashir remains vague.

"Zambia invited him but it is not saying clearly what it will do if he goes. This will be a test of the new trend against Bashir," said one Security Council diplomat. Human rights groups, opposition leaders and religious figures in Zambia have criticized the government for making the invitation.

On Thursday, the Sudanese ambassador to the UN has deflected a question on whether Bashir will attend the summit in Lusaka or not but stressed that there are no restrictions on his travel.

"President Bashir will continue to travel, nobody will be able to restrict him," Sudan’s UN ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman told reporters after a briefing to the UNSC by the ICC prosecutor.

Ocampo has described Bashir as someone who is under “country arrest” because of a series of absences and disinvitations to events he was invited to.

Human rights groups echoed Ocampo’s assertions.

Bashir "is finding himself a prisoner in his own palace" because of the "dis-invitations," according to Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch’s head of international justice who spoke to AFP.

"While there is a long way to go to him before he is a prisoner at the ICC or appears at its dock, it suggests a greater isolation for the president of Sudan than I believe he ever expected.

"I think what is necessary is for him to become increasingly a pariah in the international community, among African states, so there is the recognition that his leading role is more of a liability for the people of Sudan," Dicker added.

Unlike the limited-term international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the ICC is a permanent court. "It is not going to go out of business," said Dicker. "So whether it is four years or five years or 20 years that warrant will be in place and at some point the conditions will come together for this individual’s arrest and fair trial."

John Prendergast, co-founder of Enough, an anti-genocide activist group, expressed disappointment at the "sporadic and erratic" resolve of the international community.

"There has to be some kind of repercussion for a country that will allow him to visit, especially if they are signatories to the ICC. So the noose seems a little loose still and that could be tightened," he said.

(ST)