Monday, November 1, 2010

Venue swap benefits wanted president of Sudan

An African president wanted for genocide was expected for a weekend summit, but as the International Criminal Court asked Kenya to arrest him the venue was switched to a country beyond the court's reach, officials said on Wednesday.

The summit is now to take place in Ethiopia, which doesn't recognize the International Criminal Court. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the wanted man, visited Ethiopia in April 2009 soon after he was first indicted by the ICC. The change of summit venue raises questions about whether regional leaders have the will to bring al-Bashir to justice for atrocities committed in Darfur, in western Sudan. The weekend meeting held by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, brings together the leaders of six East African nations to discuss two referenda in Sudan in January that could see the southern part of Africa's biggest country break away. There are fears that if the referenda are postponed, a civil war could re-ignite in Sudan.

The ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands, on Tuesday made public a request to Kenya to arrest al-Bashir if he enters the country. Kenya is a signatory to the statute forming the ICC and is obligated to arrest al-Bashir if he is in Kenya, even though it failed to do so when he arrived in August for a ceremony to adopt Kenya's new constitution. Yufnalis Okubo, IGAD's acting director of peace and security, said the organization had initially planned to hold the summit in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but that as of Tuesday the venue was changed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. "It's not a big deal," he said, adding he did not know why the venue was changed. But the change happened as controversy grew around the possibility of al-Bashir's presence in Kenya.

Last week, African rights organizations asked Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to clearly state that al-Bashir would be arrested if he visited. The ICC did not immediately return a call seeking comment. When Kenyan authorities did not arrest al-Bashir in August, they were heavily criticized, including in a statement by President Barack Obama.

The refusal to arrest al-Bashir raises doubts about Kenya's willingness to hand over top Kenyan officials expected to soon be charged by the ICC for postelection violence that left more than 1,000 people dead in 2007-08.  The ICC has no police force and relies on member states to arrest suspects. Al-Bashir refuses to recognize the court's authority and has vowed to never turn himself in. Darfur's ethnic African rebels rose up in 2003, accusing Sudan's Arab-dominated central government of neglect and discrimination. U.N. officials estimated 300,000 people died and 2.7 million were displaced. Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda are members of IGAD. Eritrea suspended its membership in 2007. (Sapa-AP)

Adapted from:
Mmegi Online: Venue swap benefits wanted president of Sudan

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