Home | News    Thursday 22 July 2010

Chad rolls red carpet for Sudanese president, says Bashir is safe from arrest

July 21, 2010 (KHARTOUM) – The Chadian government today flatly rejected calls by rights groups to arrest visiting Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir who arrived today in Ndjamena despite an outstanding arrest warrant for him by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (2nd R) walks with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (L) as he prepares to leave for Chad, in Khartoum July 21, 2010 (Reuters)

Chad, a signatory to the Rome Statute which is the ICC’s founding treaty, has an obligation to apprehend Bashir once he entered its territory.

But senior Chadian officials made it clear this will not happen.

"Omar al-Bashir was invited to the summit in his capacity as president of a CEN-SAD member and he has nothing to worry about," said Chad’s Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Mahamat said Chad was following the position of the African Union in allowing Bashir to visit, a position agreed by the regional body after the initial ICC warrant was issued.

"Everybody is working for the resolution of the Darfur crisis. It is not the moment to add other charges to complicate the situation. Our priority is peace in Sudan," Mahamat said.

The AU resolution pushed by the host Libya last year states that none of the countries in the continent shall cooperate with the ICC in arresting Bashir. Several countries including Chad said they will not abide by it because they were not given a chance to express their reservations.

The ICC issued its second arrest warrant al-Bashir just last week adding three new counts of genocide to the already existing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The interior minister stressed that his country is under no obligation to nab Bashir and extradite him to The Hague.

"What country has ever arrested a sitting head of state? Bashir won’t be arrested in Chad," Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir told Agence France Presse (AFP).

"Chad is a sovereign and independent state.... We are not dependent on the injunctions of international organizations" he added.

Deby and Bashir held closed talks after which they told reporters that they have started a new era in their relationship after years of proxy wars and accusing each other of backing the rebels.

AFP reported that neither the French ambassador in Chad nor the US charge d’Affaires took part in the welcoming reception for Bashir at Ndjamena airport, although they were present for the earlier arrivals of the Somali and Comorian leaders.

The U.S. said today that Chad had obligations under the Rome Statue but was careful not to condemn Ndjamena for receiving the Sudanese president.

“Chad is a party to the Rome Statute and has obligations as a result. We’ll leave it to the Government of Chad to explain why it did or did not take actions in – related to those obligations” said U.S. state department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley.

“We strongly support international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice. We believe that there cannot be a lasting peace in Darfur or stability in Sudan without accountability and justice. And we will continue to call upon Sudan and other parties to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court. As we’ve said many times, ultimately President Bashir must present himself to the court and answer the charges that have been leveled against him” he added.

Crowley said he doesn’t know whether U.S. brought up the issue with Ndjamena but refused to say whether Washington was happy about Bashir evading arrest saying “I’m not going to characterize our mood”.

The U.S. is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and has been hostile to the court despite warming up to it in recent years.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said through a spokesman that it was up to countries that are party to the court "to live up to their obligations as they see fit."

"Of course he said repeatedly that... there are charges that have been put forward by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court and these charges are very serious," Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said Wednesday.

Both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) urged Chad to arrest Bashir or bar him from entering the country.

“Chad risks the shameful distinction of being the first ICC member state to harbor a suspected war criminal from the court,” said Elise Keppler, International Justice Program senior counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Chad should not flout its obligations to arrest al-Bashir if he enters Chad.”

Before Bashir left for Chad, the Sudanese government expelled three senior Chadian opposition leaders including Timan Erdimi, Mahamat Nouri and Adouma Hassaballa.

President Deby, who made a landmark visit to Khartoum in February for the inauguration of Bashir’s new presidential term, had expelled Khalil Ibrahim who leads the powerful Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

"After Khalil’s expulsion, it was Sudan’s turn to respect their side of the deal" and expel the rebels, said another Chadian rebel on Tuesday.

A Chadian diplomat agreed. "President Bashir must show that he has done his work and that there are no more Chadian rebels in Sudan if he goes to Chad," the diplomat told AFP.