Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has, once again, sent shock waves through the international community. Last week, President Bashir, who doubles as an internationally indicted war criminal, formally requested a visa to enter the U.S. to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting.
As host country of the United Nations, the U.S. is obligated to grant visas for all heads of state and their representatives regardless of political tensions. Historically, other notorious world leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe have attended the United Nations meeting, but President Bashir represents an unprecedented case.
He would be the first international fugitive wanted by the International Criminal Court, or ICC, to both step foot onto U.S. soil and to attend the United Nations annual meeting. The ICC has issued two separate warrants for Bashir's arrest totaling ten counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed during the Darfur genocide that claimed approximately 300,000 lives.
Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., has called President Bashir's request to attend the U.N. meeting as "deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate."
However, the situation has become a game of chicken between Bashir and the U.S. President Bashir claims that he has booked a flight and hotel for the trip, but many speculate that his plans to actually go through with the trip could be one big bluff.
"We [can] go to the U.S. and no one can do anything to us because there is no law in America that affords U.S. authorities the right to take any action against me because it is not a member of the Rome Statute," said President Bashir during a September 22 press conference. "Attending the General Assembly [meeting] is our right."
Technically, the U.S. is not a member to the ICC and therefore is not obligated under the Rome Statute to arrest President Bashir if he enters the country. However, the ICC released a statement last week urging the U.S. to cooperate with the Court on an ad hoc basis by arresting Bashir and surrendering him to the Court. So far, the U.S. government has not publicized its decisions on Bashir's or the ICC's requests.
Despite the U.S.'s lack of a formal international legal obligation to arrest Bashir, human rights groups are pushing for other creative legal avenues to apprehend and ostracize the infamous leader. In a coalition letter to President Obama, the Enough Project suggested that the U.S. Department of Justice should explore filing a criminal case against Bashir under 18 USC 1091. This law, which codifies the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007, provides the U.S. with jurisdiction to prosecute anyone on U.S. soil responsible for committing acts of genocide, regardless of where the crimes took place. Additionally, Human Rights Watch is asking U.N. member states to publicly oppose Bashir's visit to the U.N., calling on them to refuse participation in events if he is present.
President Bashir's visit to New York would be a huge setback for international justice. Not only would it be damaging for the young ICC that has already been criticized for its lack of an enforcement mechanism, but it also would be a slap in the face for the U.N. Security Council who referred the case of the Darfur genocide to the ICC in the first place.
Allowing Bashir to attend the General Assembly meeting without consequence would send a clear message to the rest of the world emphasizing an international culture of impunity. If anything, the case of Bashir should be used to set an example of accountability in the international system, particularly in an effort to deter other sitting Heads of State from committing crimes against humanity or acts of genocide.
It remains unclear why Bashir, as an indicted war criminal, would want to take part in the U.N. meeting when he clearly does not show the slightest regard for international law or norms. Perhaps his underlying motives are to make headlines, increase his own notoriety, or just simply piss off the U.S. and international community -- which he has done successfully.
But one thing is for certain: if President Bashir wants to become an active participant in the international community then he needs to refund his flight to New York and book a one-way ticket to The Hague.