25 February 2013

Sudan: Kenyan Ambassador to Sudan Denies Calling Bashir Judge 'Incompetent'

Khartoum — The outgoing Kenyan ambassador to Sudan Robert Ngesu has distanced himself from remarks attributed to him by a pro-government newspaper last week in which he said that president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir is welcome to visit his country "at any time".

According to the Khartoum-based Arabic newspaper al-Rayaam, Ngesu reaffirmed his government's solidarity with the Sudanese leader, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

However, in a letter sent to Sudan Tribune, Ngesu said he never gave an interview to al-Rayaam.

"I wish to categorically state that I did not hold any interview with the said newspaper, and in this regard, I am expressing my objection to the said newspaper," he said in the letter dated 25 February.

"On the issue of the ICC arrest warrant against the president of Sudan the position of the African Union is in the public domain. Kenya, as a member of the AU, therefore ascribes to the same position," he continued.

Bashir has been indicted by the ICC over allegations he is responsible for the deaths of up to 300,000 people in Darfur since 2003.

In 2009 and 2010 the Hague-based court issued two arrest warrants for Bashir on 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He has denied the charges calling it politically motivated.

Despite being a signatory to the ICC statute, Kenya ignored its legal obligations, choosing to receive Bashir on a visit in 2010 without making an arrest.

Kenya has defended its position saying it is bound by AU resolutions, instructing member states not to act on the ICC warrants.

However, the last AU summit which took place last January in the Ethiopian capital omitted this clause about ignoring Bashir's warrant.

In a move that infuriated Khartoum, former Kenyan judge Nicholas Ombija in November 2011 ordered the government to arrest Bashir "should he set foot in Kenya in future".

In its article, al-Rayaam quotes the ambassador as saying Ombija was later dismissed due to his "incompetence and involvement in non-legal affairs."

Ngesu vehemently denied making comments to that effect, saying "at no time did I utter the words out of 'incompetence and involvement in non-legal affairs'".

The Kenyan ambassador confirmed to Sudan Tribune that the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board in Kenya had relieved Ombija of his position and that the matter of the arrest warrant was currently being handled in Kenya's Court of Appeal.

The issue sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries, with Bashir expelling the Kenyan envoy at the time and threatening Nairobi with sanctions unless the decision was reversed.

Ironically, the Sudanese president last week awarded Ngesu the Al-Nilain medal at the conclusion of his five years tenure in the country.

The Kenyan government has since appealed Ombija's decision, however, the appellate court refused its request to suspend the warrant against Bashir, ordering that it stays in effect until the appeal is fully heard.

It is not clear when a decision might be made on the case.

There have been renewed calls for Sudan's African neighbours to fulfil their obligations under international law, with Chad's decision to receive Bashir on a visit earlier this month despite the outstanding arrest warrant, drawing a strong rebuke from rights groups.

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