The visit of a president to a neighboring country should not be breaking news, unless the visiting president happens to be subject to an arrest warrant for heinous crimes and the host country is a state party to the Court that issued those warrants.
At this moment, the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is in Chad attending the Summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. Al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
His visit flouts the authority of both the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the decision of the ICC.
The ICC began the investigation in the region of Darfur, upon a referral by the UNSC in 2005. The Court, after carrying out an exhaustive examination decided to issue five arrest warrants against those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed in the region. Two arrest warrants were issued for the President Al-Bashir; his former Interior Minister (and current Defense Minister), Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein; the current Governor of South Kordofan, Ahmad Harun; and Ali Kushayb, a Janjaweed leader.
All of them remain at large.
President Al-Bashir has been openly defying the ICC since the UN Security Council asked this permanent and independent court to investigate the situation in the Darfur. According to the UN body, the situation "constituted a threat to international peace and security" and decided "that the Government of Sudan and all other parties to the conflict in Darfur shall cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor pursuant to this resolution and, while recognizing that States not party to the Rome Statute have no obligation under the Statute, urges all States and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully."
But, Al-Bashir's rejection of the ICC was made public on several occasions, including firing off false accusations to the former ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and to states such as Costa Rica who support the apprehension of war criminals.
Since the arrest warrants were issued, we have seen Al-Bashir being invited to and participating in different events. Regrettably, these events are occasionally in ICC states parties. One of those states is Chad, which as a state party to the ICC, should cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court. That cooperation includes the execution of the arrest warrants issued by the Court.
The fact that Al-Bashir is in Chad today for the third time since the issuance of the warrants and he has not yet been arrested is reprehensible.
"When it comes to crimes against humanity, no one is above the law," stated Michelle Kissenkoetter, UN Representative for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). "The fact that Al-Bashir is a sitting president does not absolve him from facing justice. It's an even greater shame that a head of state would disregard international law and deny his people justice. Chad is therefore obligated to arrest Al-Bashir; not doing so would be an affront to the hundreds of thousands of victims in Darfur."
The president of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the governing body of the ICC, Ambassador Tiina Intelmann clearly explained, "Preventing instances of non-cooperation should be a committed effort by all states parties at all levels, whether the support be political, diplomatic, or technical." From her office, she has carried out exhaustive efforts, recalling the Court's communication to Chad on non-cooperation from previous years and the consideration that this specific topic had in the last meeting of the states members to the ICC.
"All relevant actors in states parties, regional organizations, and civil society should join efforts to prevent these breaches of international law, such as Bashir demonstrated in his visit to Chad," said Intelmann, who welcomed the letter sent by the European Parliament and the initiative carried out by a group of approximately a hundred NGOs, asking Chad to comply with its international obligations.
States should be aware that the conflict in the western region of Darfur has affected the lives of over 2.5 million people, and despite efforts, the conflict that broke in 2003 is still ongoing and seemingly never-ending. As a result, we continue to witness hundreds of women being raped, widespread and systematic violence taking place in nearly every form imaginable, and total lack of accountability for the crimes committed.
Let's take a stand. We cannot continue to fail the victims of these atrocities.