Sudanese president cancels U.N. address

September 25, 2013

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who is indicted for war crimes, has canceled his plans to address a high-level meeting of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly’s general debate, according to U.N. and diplomats officials.

“We understand he is not coming and we’re glad he’s not coming,” said Christian Wenaweser, the U.N. ambassador of Liechtenstein and former president of the Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court. “We think it would have been bad for the United Nations to host someone who has been issued and international arrest warrant.”

Earlier this month, Bashir announced that he had requested a visa to travel to the United States to attend the General Assembly debate for the first time since 2006. U.S. officials declined to say whether the United States had issued Bashir a visa. The Sudanese mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

The cancellation followed several days of diplomatic efforts by the United States to convince Bashir not to come to the United States, warning that it could not guarantee he would not be subject to arrest, according to U.N. based diplomats.

The prospect of a Bashir visit created a political dilemma for the United States, which is bound by a 1947 agreement with the U.N. to allow foreign diplomats safe passage to the United Nations, but which has come under intense pressure from law makers and human rights advocates to arrest him.

Frank Wolf ( R-Va.), who has been active on Sudan matters for years, urged the Obama administration to arrest Bashir. “I recognize that the U.S. has host country obligations as it relates to the United Nations,” Wolf wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “However, is there not a higher moral obligation to take concrete steps to bring an internationally indicted war criminal, with blood on his hands, to justice?”

The Hague-based court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009, charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in orchestrating the mass killing of more than 300,000 people in Darfur. A second arrest warrant accusing him of genocide was issued in 2010.

Sudan, which is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the court, has refused to surrender Bashir. And Bashir has repeatedly defied the court’s arrest warrant by traveling to at least a dozen countries, including China, Egypt, Eritrea and Nigeria. In 2010, Bashir traveled to Kenya, which is a party to the International Criminal Court.

His decision to visit the United States was particularly awkward, given the fact that the United States is not a member of the court, and has no legal obligation to arrest him or surrender him to the court.

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