Khartoum — The Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir has challenged the United States government to do anything except grant his visa request to travel to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meetings next week.
Bashir faces two arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) which indicted him in 2009 and 2010 on ten counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in connection with the decade-long conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur.
His plans to attend the UNGA meetings for the first time since his indictment has took US officials by surprise who were quick to condemn it but stopped short of saying they will reject his visa application.
"Such a trip would be deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate. We would suggest that given that he is under those chargers, and that the ICC has indicted him, again, on genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity charges that it would be more appropriate for him to present himself to the ICC and travel to The Hague," US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told reporters this week.
The US is not a member of the ICC and as such has no legal obligation to execute the warrants and under the 1947 UN headquarters agreement is required to promptly grant visas to world officials seeking to participate in UN events.
At a lengthy press conference in Khartoum today devoted mainly to economic issues, Bashir appeared confident that he will secure the visa.
"Those people [US government] we put them in a corner... .We [can] go to the US and no one can do anything to us because there is no law in America that affords US authorities the right to take any action against me because it is not a member of the Rome Statute. Attending the [UN] General Assembly [meeting] is our right" the Sudanese president told reporters.
"There is no law in America that says otherwise but of course they can rally people, stage demonstrations, cast stones; it is possible but any other action they can't do. If they could do anything they would have immediately granted me the visa so I go there, get arrested and be handed over to the Hague," he added.
Bashir also disclosed that all other arrangements have been made for his trip but his language appeared to suggest that his visa application is still pending.
"The flight route has been decided. We got clearance from here [Sudan] all the way to Morocco and on to the Atlantic Ocean god willing all the way to New York. We booked our hotels in New York," he said.
In the past the US has criticized countries like China for receiving Bashir and last June Larry André, Director of the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan at the U.S. State Department told US lawmakers that the Obama administration is working to press countries to refrain from receiving with Sudanese official wanted by the ICC.
The ICC Pre-Trial chamber, in a decision issued Wednesday, said it had "... invited the competent US authorities to arrest Omar Al Bashir and surrender him to the Court, in the event he enters their territory."
The visa issue has attracted controversy placing the US, a non-signatory to the ICC's Rome statute, in the spotlight.
The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the members of the United Nations to publicly oppose attendance at its General Assembly by Bashir.
"If al-Bashir turns up at the UN General Assembly, it will be a brazen challenge to Security Council efforts to promote justice for crimes in Darfur," said Elise Keppler, associate international justice program director at HRW.
"The last thing the UN needs is a visit by an ICC fugitive", she added.
On Thursday, a group of Hollywood actors and activists wrote a letter to Obama urging him to block Bashir's attendance.
"While we recognize that the U.S. government is obliged to facilitate President Bashir's visit under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, we urge you to do everything in your power to prevent the trip," it said.
The letter suggested a number of steps to discourage the Sudanese president from visiting.
The signatories including George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Mia Farrow and Omer Ismail and John Prendergast of the Enough Project said that the US Department of Justice should "explore filing a criminal case against him under 18 USC 1091".
"This law, which codifies the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007, allows for anyone present in the United States to be prosecuted for genocide, even if their crimes were committed abroad" the letter reads in part.
"By publicly raising the threat of such a prosecution and the specter that President Bashir's privileges and immunities may not extend to genocidal acts, your administration would make an important statement about the U.S. government's commitment to atrocity prevention and accountability".
"Declaring that the U.S. will only offer the Sudanese delegation the minimum amount of protection mandated by the UN Headquarters Agreement could also affect the Sudanese government's decision making process... Limiting the number of visas granted to President Bashir's security detail and imposing specific geographic constraints on those visas could also circumscribe the delegation's mobility and raise the reputational costs of the trip" it adds.
"In the event that President Bashir remains steadfast in his intent to travel to United Nations headquarters despite these actions, there are a number of steps that can be taken to impede his travel. Our diplomatic corps should encourage countries along President Bashir's planned flight path to refuse landing rights for his aircraft for refueling and restrict access to their airspace. The U.S. delegation to the United Nations and Ambassador Samantha Power should also encourage senior UN officials and delegations from other countries to publicly refuse to meet with President Bashir or his delegation. Drawing on the precedent set by a similar rejection of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad in 2011, our diplomats could also coordinate a walk-out of the UN General Assembly session in protest of President Bashir's presence".
Several UN diplomats told Reuters they were surprised by Bashir's request to come to the United States. One Latin American ambassador said it was a "travesty of international justice."
Amnesty International, in a statement issued Friday, said member states of UNGA must demand that Al-Bashir surrenders to ICC where he faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
"Despite the ICC arrest warrants against the President, two other government officials and an alleged Janjaweed militia leader, they are all being protected by the Sudanese government which is refusing to cooperate with the Court," said Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of law and policy at Amnesty International.
Sudan's decision to send a person accused of orchestrating these most serious crimes to attend the UN General Assembly, he added, is a grave insult to the thousands of people unlawfully killed, millions displaced and countless women and children raped in Darfur over the last decade.