Fearing arrest in Tunisia, Sudan’s Bashir cancels trip to Arab League

By on March 27, 2019

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir will not be heading the country’s delegation to the Arab League summit in Tunisia, Foreign Minister El-Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed announced earlier today, a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the wanted president to be arrested upon entering the country.

Sudan’s First Vice-President, Awad Ibn Ouf, will now head the delegation to the League’s annual summit on Sunday, the first time the meeting has been held in Tunisia since the revolution that ousted Zein El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

The announcement comes a day after HRW called on Tunisian authorities to meet their commitments to international law and arrest Al-Bashir on entering the country. The Sudanese premier is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on ten charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, relating to the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

“The ICC relies on its member states like Tunisia for cooperation in the surrender of suspects to be effective. Darfur victims, hundreds of thousands of whom have lived in refugee or displaced person camps for well over a decade, deserve to see Al-Bashir face justice at long last,” Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at HRW said.

In July 2011, Tunisia became the first North African country to sign up to the ICC and ratify the Rome Statute, meaning that they are willing to refer relevant crimes to the court. Al-Bashir’s visit would have put that commitment to the test for the first time, a risk he now seems unwilling to take.

Last year, the ICC concluded that Jordan – which is also a member state – had defied its international obligations to arrest Al-Bashir, who visited the country for the previous Arab League summit. The Hague sent its finding to the UN Security Council for further action.

However, in September Jordan appealed the decision, claiming that the Kingdom “regards Omar Al-Bashir as a sitting head of state and therefore immune to arrest” based on the international legal principle of comity between states; the case is pending before an ICC appeals chamber.

Despite being wanted since 2009, Al-Bashir frequently travels around the world; the number of trips peaked in 2015 when he made 27 overseas visits, followed by 24 in 2017 and 23 in 2016. He often travels to countries that are not full signatories to the Rome Statute, including Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Qatar, but has also visited full members such as South Africa and Uganda.

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