- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the only head of state ever indicted by the International Criminal Court, is using foreign travel to flaunt the court’s main weakness — it can’t arrest anyone.

As a result, its indictments can have unintended consequences, especially in this case, by possibly extending the suffering in Darfur.

“The ICC decision complicates matters more than it solves,” said Karim Haggag, a spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington. “It certainly does not contribute to fostering the peace process, which we are trying to put forth.”

Sudan expelled at least 10 foreign aid groups within days of the March 4 court decision.

Gen. Bashir then began traveling, with visits to Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Most recently he visited Ethiopia for meetings with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on April 21.

Mr. Haggag said Egypt invited Mr. Bashir to help maintain relations between the two countries and further peace efforts.

The war in Darfur began in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the government, claiming the parched region in western Sudan had been marginalized by the central government in Khartoum. Since then, an estimated 300,000 people have died and another 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes, mainly from attacks by the Sudanese army and army backed militias.

Because the court does not have a police force, cooperation from world leaders is necessary for the court’s effectiveness, said Laurence Blairon, spokeswoman for the ICC.

“The court counts on the cooperation of states to arrest suspects and to surrender them to the court for trial,” she said.

None of the nations visited by Gen. Bashir has signed the 1998 statute that created the ICC as the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, although 108 other countries have done so.

Aid workers and human rights activists blame regional leaders who have hosted Gen. Bashir for continued misery in Darfur.

“They say they are supporting Sudan, but they are not supporting the country; they are supporting one person, one criminal,” said Gabriel Stauring, director of Stop Genocide Now, a grass-roots organization working to end the killing in Darfur.

A statement issued by the Save Darfur Coalition, the Enough Project, Genocide Intervention Network, Refugees International, Physicians for Human Rights, Stop Genocide Now, Africa Action and the American Jewish World Service, underlined the role of international leaders in promoting justice.

“At a minimum, countries should not allow [Gen. Bashir] to travel to their territory and should limit diplomatic interaction with him in Khartoum to efforts to end the crisis in Darfur and bring peace to all of Sudan,” the coalition said. “A regime led by an indicted war criminal cannot possibly be treated as a full member of the community of nations.”

The United States has not joined the ICC, fearing that it could subject U.S. officials and troops based overseas to politically motivated prosecutions. However, the U.S. has supported ICC efforts to prosecute Sudanese for actions in Darfur, and the Obama administration welcomed the Bashir indictment.

In the meantime, the U.S. is placing its hopes on negotiations, including talks between Chad and Sudan that are being mediated by Libya and hosted by Qatar.

“The United States stands ready to support peace efforts aimed at ending the conflict in Darfur and promoting regional stability,” State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said recently.

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