China’s hosting last month of International Criminal Court (ICC) fugitive Omar al-Bashir displayed a lack of global leadership and disregard for thousands of victims of grave crimes in Darfur, Sudan.
China was part of the UN Security Council that in 2005 asked the ICC prosecutor to investigate the commission of grave crimes in Darfur with the full cooperation of UN member states. It has the added distinction and responsibility of being one of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the Council.
Indeed, China’s decision not to veto the Darfur referral ten years ago was a significant development in its approach to the maintenance of international peace and security.
Yet it has failed, along with the rest of the Council, to provide the necessary support in executing the ensuing ICC arrest warrants against the Sudanese president and his deputies who are alleged to be responsible for continuing grave crimes in Darfur and South Kordofan state.
“Old Friend,” ICC fugitive
Al-Bashir—wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide that have left around 300,000 dead and some 2.5 million displaced in Darfur—was greeted in Beijing as an “old friend” during its commemoration of the end of the Second World War.
Asked if it was not a contradiction to ask someone wanted for war crimes to such a ceremony, China’s foreign ministry said the invitation was “reasonable and justified,” emphasizing the country was not a state party to the Rome Statute.
Those who should know better
While most governments chose not to attend last month’s ceremony, South African President of Jacob Zuma and Czech Republic President Miloš Zeman sat alongside al-Bashir. Both are the leaders of ICC member states.
Other notable attendees included Nout Wellink, the Netherlands state secretary, the country that houses the ICC; and Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister, the country that drafted the UN resolution that referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in 2005.
Ahead of the ceremony, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) wrote to the Chinese authorities, heads of state, and government and UN officials, underlining that state parties to the ICC Rome Statute have the responsibility to “avoid contact with persons subject to a warrant of arrest issued by the Court.”
“The presence of these leaders at the ceremony along with Omar Al Bashir is an insult to the victims of mass atrocities in Sudan, and to international justice in general,” stated Karim Lahidji, president of FIDH. “Instead of silently attending a ceremony alongside Al Bashir, they should be calling for his transfer to the ICC to answer the charges of serious international crimes.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was also in attendance. The UN’s own guidelines stipulate that officials have the obligation to avoid attending “any ceremonial or similar occasion” where persons who are wanted by the ICC will be present.
A shrinking world for the Sudanese president
As an international fugitive, al-Bashir’s world has shrunk considerably over the past six years. A number of trips have been cancelled, rescheduled, or relocated amid diplomatic and public outcry. Activists have gone to domestic court to compel his arrest and protested in the streets against his presence in their countries.
In June this year, al-Bashir fled South Africa after a local NGO filed a motion in Pretoria’s high court to compel the execution of the two ICC arrest warrants. ICC judges last week ordered South Africa to explain why it failed to arrest al-Bashir. This follows hasty similarly hasty retreats from Kenya and Nigeria.
In 2011, Bashir’s trip to China was almost cut short when Tajikistan and Turkmenistan revoked permission for him to fly through their airspace.
Ongoing atrocities under al-Bashir’s watch
Ongoing atrocities have been linked to al-Bashir and his regime by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and civil society.
In a report to the UN Security Council on her Darfur investigation last June, Prosecutor Bensouda said that “innocent civilians continue to bear the brunt of insecurity and instability, in particular as a result of what appears to be an on-going government campaign to target them […] The people alleged to be most responsible for these ongoing atrocities are the same people against whom warrants of arrest have already been issued.”
A report last week accused Sudanese government forces of fresh attacks against civilians in Darfur, while the brutal and forgotten conflict in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State has affected over 2 million since 2011.
Need for UN Security Council action
During the June briefing, the prosecutor lambasted the Council for its inaction, stating that it “is past time for this Council and States to join forces with the Court and civil society in devising concrete and effective strategies for the arrest of accused persons wanted by the Court, and to give the ICC the full support it requires and is entitled to, in order to implement the Rome Statute as intended.”
Civil society has long been calling on ICC member states to advance concrete proposals for improving cooperation between the Council, UN and the ICC
There is no excuse for engaging with suspected war criminals. International justice simply cannot work without the cooperation of global powers like China.