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Sudan’s Omar Bashir, accused of war crimes, puts U.S. in bind with visa request

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An accused war criminal wants to address the U.N. General Assembly this week, and the Obama administration doesn't know what to do with him.

The Obama administration faces a challenge and the United Nations faces embarrassment now that Sudanese President Omar Bashir has applied for a U.S. visa to attend the annual General Assembly session, which opens Tuesday.

As the U.N. host country, the United States routinely grants visas to foreign leaders to travel to New York on U.N. business, but Gen. Bashir is under indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. On Sunday, he said at a news conference in Khartoum that it is Sudan's right to attend the U.N. General Assembly meeting.

"We have made arrangement to participate and there is no law in America [that] gives the right of preventing us," he said, according to the official Sudan News Agency.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and other administration officials want Gen. Bashir to surrender to the Netherlands-based tribunal, even though the United States does not recognize the authority of the court.

The court issued arrest warrants for the Sudanese leader in 2009 and 2010, accusing him of committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan's western province of Darfur.

"Giving President Bashir a visa would be controversial. It would call the U.S. government's bluff on Bashir's indictment," said Andrew Natsios, who served as U.S. special envoy to Sudan in the George W. Bush administration.

"The U.S. is pressing African and Arab governments to arrest him and send him to the [court] for prosecution. Why isn't the U.S. government arresting him if we support the indictment?" said Mr. Natsios, who is currently director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at Texas A&M University.

Gen. Bashir's presence at the United Nations could embarrass the world body because the Security Council referred the conflict in Darfur to the International Criminal Court in 2005.

Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said it would be a serious mistake for Gen. Bashir to address the General Assembly.

"This is not simply a challenge for the Obama administration; this is a challenge to [U.N.] Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and senior officials at the U.N. as well," said Mr. Carson, now a senior adviser at the United States Institute for Peace.

"If they allow him a platform to speak, they will be allowing someone who has been referred to the [court] by the [U.N.] Security Council and accused of war crimes and atrocities to use the U.N. platform to disseminate his views."

Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch, added: "The last thing the U.N. needs is a visit by an ICC fugitive."

If Gen. Bashir shows up at the United Nations, Mr. Ban would urge him to surrender to the court, said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq. It is up to the Security Council to ensure Sudan's cooperation with the court, which has no police force and relies on international cooperation to arrest suspects.

The United Nations has hosted several world leaders with whom the United States had tense relations, including Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba.

However, if Gen. Bashir is allowed to travel to New York, he would be the first person facing an International Criminal Court arrest warrant to enter the U.S. to attend a U.N. meeting.

"The question of whether the United States is to grant President Bashir a visa is, first and foremost, a matter for the United States to determine, consistent with the applicable rules of international law," Mr. Haq said.

U.S. officials have not said whether the court warrant is grounds to reject Gen. Bashir's visa application.

"There are a lot of considerations going into this request, including the outstanding warrant against him," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday.

The International Criminal Court last week asked the United States to arrest Gen. Bashir and turn him over to its custody if the Sudanese leader enters the United States.

Although the United States is not among the 122 nations that recognize the court, the Obama administration has established a working relationship with the tribunal.

In March, for example, the United States helped Rwanda arrange the transfer of Congolese rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda to the custody of the court.

Gen. Bashir denies the court charges and has refused to accept the legitimacy of the tribunal.

Sudan's government criticized the Obama administration for suggesting that Gen. Bashir turn himself over to the International Criminal Court.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry said the U.S. has "no legal right to object to the participation of any official from member states of the U.N. in activities of the U.N."

The United States also is "not morally, politically and legally qualified to provide sermons" on international human rights and humanitarian law, it added.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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