Sudanese president defies indictment

Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - From his travel schedule, you'd never know that an arrest warrant has been issued for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even as the violence in Darfur continues, he continues to be welcome in nations across Africa and the Middle East.

"After the arrest warrant, we were very optimistic that (Bashir) was going to be arrested soon and that he would not dare to travel around, but that was not the case," said Ahmed Sidig, a spokesman for the Kalma refugee camp in south Darfur.

"Yes, the court's decision to (call for his) arrest is a big victory for us, but if he continues to travel and move freely as he is doing today, I am afraid the decision will remain just ink on paper," he said.

Bashir is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with Sudan's conflict in the Darfur region, which has claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people and driven more than 2.7 million from their homes.

Since being indicted, he has visited at least six countries, in defiance of the court.

In early April, he traveled to Saudi Arabia, reportedly for a brief pilgrimage, and subsequently visited Ethiopia.

Bashir has limited his travel to countries that have not signed the treaty creating the international court and are therefore not obliged to hand him over to the court.

Bashir, however, apparently did cancel plans to attend the inauguration of South Africa's new president. Because South Africa is a signatory of the court treaty, it would have been obligated to arrest the Sudanese leader. Bashir's decision removed a potentially embarrassing situation.

Darfuris, meanwhile, are increasingly frustrated by Bashir's open defiance of the court.

"He said publicly that the court is under his shoes (beneath him) and now he is showing that he doesn't care about the arrest warrant," Sidig said.

"Why (doesn't) the international community work together to isolate and arrest him? For us, there is no way to deal with him (other) than arresting him and putting him on trial," he said.

Meanwhile, conditions in Darfur have deteriorated following the expulsion of 16 international aid groups in the wake of Bashir's indictment. Residents of refugee camps say that attacks by the government-backed Arab janjaweed militia have increased in intensity.

"Instead of curbing his militias and stopping their crimes, (Bashir) gave them more power and freedom to terrorize us. So, for the sake of our lives and our safety, he has to be arrested as soon as possible," Sidig said.

An aid worker, who spoke under conditions of anonymity, confirmed that Darfur had recently become more dangerous.

"The situation is simply deteriorating," this aid worker said. "Attacks on (refugee) camps and aid workers are becoming a daily reality. The government is pursuing a nothing-to-lose policy after the (Bashir) arrest warrant."

• Tajeldin Abdoul Adam and Peter Eichstaedt are reporters who write for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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