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Sudan's Bashir: The Arab League must host a summit, not a fugitive Open in fullscreen

Amal Nassar and Fadi Al-Qadi

Sudan's Bashir: The Arab League must host a summit, not a fugitive

The Arab League is due to meet in Tunisia at the end of March [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2019

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Comment: For years, Sudan's globetrotting dictator Bashir has avoided transfer to the ICC. The Arab League meeting in Tunisia must end his impunity now, write Amal Nassar and Fadi al-Qadi.
When Arab leaders head to Tunis to attend the 31st Arab League Summit at the end of this month, leaders must address one issue that has gone ignored too long. 

While past meetings have delivered static deliberations on more traditional agenda items, such as 'priorities for peace and security', 'stability, prosperity and the development of Arab states and populations', this edition of the meeting is an opportunity to heed the pending international arrest warrants facing Sudanese President Al-Bashir, and the continuing deterioration of human rights in the Darfur region. 

If Bashir participates in the upcoming Summit - as is customary - it will mark 10 years since he was first indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for atrocities he is accused of committing in Darfur.

The first international arrest warrant against Bashir was issued by the ICC on 4 March 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is now a decade old.

These crimes were so grave that the international community decided to refer the matter through the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court (ICC), viewed as the only Court capable of holding Bashir accountable.

A year later, Bashir would become the first person to be charged by the ICC, under a second international arrest warrant, with multiple counts of genocide perpetrated against civilians from non-Arab - also referred to as African - tribes in Darfur, killing at least 100,000 people, displacing 2.7 million refugees, and subjecting countless women and girls to crimes of sexual violence.

Sudanese reactions to the arrest warrants included the expulsion of international aid groups and humanitarian organisations, depriving Sudanese people of life saving operations, medical care, shelter, water, etc.

For 10 years Bashir has continued to trot around the globe including to states who failed their obligation to surrender him to the Court

To date, the arrest warrants for Bashir remain unexecuted, since states that the ICC relies upon for the arrest and surrender of suspects have failed to deliver him to justice.

As Bashir gears up to attend the annual Arab League Summit, it must be noted that this year it takes place in Tunisia, one of just five out of 22 Arab League states that are also member States to the ICC, the other four being Jordan, Djibouti, The Comoros and Palestine.

Being a state party to the ICC places legal obligations on Tunisia to cooperate with the ICC on a range of issues, particularly on the arrest and transfer of fugitives like Bashir to the seat of the Court in the Hague.

Yet this situation is not unprecedented.

For 10 years Bashir has continued to trot around the globe including to states who failed their obligation to surrender him to the Court.

Uganda, Djibouti, Malawi, Chad, Kenya, South Africa and most recently Jordan, which hosted the 2017 Arab League Summit all hosted Bashir, and evidently failed to transfer him to the ICC.

While such a troubling position has become common practice, each failed arrest adds a new layer of disappointment for the victims of Bashir's atrocious conduct in the Darfur region.

Read more: 'Freedom, peace, justice': Sudan protesters rally as anti-Bashir demonstrations enter fourth month

His victims deserve to see him brought to justice, but can they rely on Tunisia to do so? One can only hope.

The regional position of the Arab League is, unfortunately not entirely helpful, either. Following Jordan's failure to arrest and transfer Bashir while on its territory, judges of the Court referred Jordan's non-compliance to the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC - the management oversight and legislative body of the Court - and to the UN Security Council.

Jordan has appealed this decision, sparking a series of legal debates on whether it was obliged under international law to arrest Bashir.

It has argued that it was obliged under customary international law to respect the immunity of Bashir as a sitting head of state, and as a representative of Sudan to 2017 Arab League Summit, in respect to its pre-existing obligations under the 1945 Arab League Pact and the 1953 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities.

The Arab League concurred with Jordan's argument, which it presented in hearings last September in the Court. Judges are yet to decide on the legal questions Jordan and the League have raised, and a decision is highly anticipated.

The legal perspective to this question is a valid approach. But for the international community and regional bodies, it is equally important to give weight to factual and ethical considerations.

Each failed arrest adds a new layer of disappointment for Bashir's victims

Indeed, in many conflicts where atrocities are being or have been committed involve situations where sitting heads of state and other senior political figures can be found criminally responsible.

To argue that these figures will be immune from criminal proceedings as long as they hold on to power is a motive to never let power go.

Moreover, from the perspective of a region that birthed the Arab Spring - where people rose against sitting heads of states for perpetrating countless crimes for too long, and in total impunity - it's simply unacceptable to hold such a position when people continue to beg for the winds of change to take hold.

Over the past 10 years, Bashir has continued to do what he does best; crushing political dissent with a myriad of human rights violations with no sign of ever stepping down.

Demonstrators in Washington DC show their support for the wave of protests in Sudan [Getty]

He has also coied up to many states and regional bodies in order to put himself back on the scene as a political ally and divert attention from his appalling human rights record.

The people of Sudan are taking to the streets in protest of the dire economic and human rights situation in the country. Protesters are being killed, journalists and activists jailed, some tortured and others disappeared. But they are not backing down and still bravely call for the resignation of Bashir.

The heart of the matter remains unchanged, and Bashir must have his day in Court, and be held accountable for the hideous mass crimes he has committed against Sudanese people, Arabs and non-Arabs alike. 

As for stepping down from power, one can only wonder if he ever will, given that regional bodies grant him immunity by virtue of his position.

Amal Nassar is an international justice advocate, currently working as Representative of FIDH to the ICC. Views expressed in this article are her own.  

Follow her on Twitter:@AmalNassar_

Fadi Al-Qadi is a Middle East and North Africa Human Rights and Media expert and commentator.

Follow him on Twitter:@fqadi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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