16 March 2012

South Sudan: Govt Will Not Arrest Bashir

Photo: Heba Aly/IRIN
President Omar al-Bashir (right): The president is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur.

Despite an outstanding ICC warrant, South Sudan's government has no plans to arrest its former foe and alleged war criminal, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, during an upcoming visit to the country.

In the coming weeks, Bashir is scheduled to travel to South Sudan for the first time since it separated from the north and declared independence on July 9, 2011. Secession came after two decades of civil war - much of it under Bashir's watch - and the presidents will be signing agreements on two issues outstanding since the split.

"We will be inviting him and according him all the respect that a head of state deserves, and for your information we are not members of the ICC," Pagan Amum, South Sudan's chief negotiator told reporters in response to a question about whether his government would arrest Bashir.

Bashir and South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, are expected to sign two agreements hammered out after nine months of troubled negotiations. The agreements cover border demarcation, and the status of citizens of both countries now living on opposite sides of an international border.

Amum said the accords are signs of a new "positive" approach that he hopes will lead to resolutions on other issues, including oil revenue sharing. South Sudan ceased production in late January, accusing Bashir's government of stealing its oil. Khartoum said it confiscated the crude to make up for unpaid fees owed by the landlocked south for use of a pipeline running across Sudan, as well as processing and export facilities inside the country. "We are actually creating an environment to reach an agreement on all issues including oil," Amum said.

Oily diplomacy

Given that oil accounted for 98 percent of government revenue before the shutdown, South Sudan has a clear incentive to cooperate with Bashir and restart production. China is heavily invested in the oil sector on both sides of the border, and refused to arrest Bashir during a visit last June.

China's foreign ministry spokesman said at the time that his country is not a signatory to the ICC treaty and "has reserved its opinion towards the International Criminal Court lawsuit".

But other countries with no such ties to the Khartoum regime have also failed to arrest the Sudanese president. The ICC referred Malawi to the United Nations Security Council for failing to cooperate with the court after it refused to arrest Bashir during an October visit to that country.

Avoiding arrest

"The Chamber found that there is no conflict between Malawi's obligations towards the Court to arrest and surrender the suspect and its obligations under customary international law," the ICC said in a Dec. 12 statement.

Chad, Kenya, and Djibouti have also been referred to the Security Council. A Kenyan judge issued his own warrant for Bashir, but the government there said it would not order an arrest.

The ICC issued a warrant for Bashir on March 4, 2009, on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes that allegedly took place in Darfur, a western state where the government has been accused of targeting civilians as well as rebels. The court issued a second warrant on July 12, 2010 for three counts of genocide, also in relation to the Darfur conflict.

The UN says about 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million forced to flee their homes since the conflict began in 2003. In addition to aerial bombardment by government aircraft, civilians have also been terrorized by government-backed Janjaweed militia.

The court has also issued a warrant for Ahmad Harun, who is now governor of Southern Kordofan state, but who is accused of recruiting, finding and arming the Janjaweed. The 42 counts against him include murder, rape, torture and attacks against the civilian population.

On March 1, the ICC issued a warrant for Abdelrahim Mohamed, Sudan's defence minister. He is wanted on 41 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mohamed was interior minister between August 2003 and March 2004, when armed forces and militia groups attacked towns and villages in Darfur, the court said.

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