(cross posted at kickin it with cg)
The Arab League Summit planned for Qatar this weekend seems fated to go down in the history books, but for the worst possible reason. Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, embraced Sudan’s resident Omar al-Bashir as an honoured guest today as he arrived to attend the Summit in a brazen act of defiance against an international arrest warrant on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
On March 4, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest on for “directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property.”
Wearing a traditional Sudanese robe and white turban, a smiling al-Bashir was greeted at the airport with an embrace and kiss by Qatar’s emir. They later had coffee with the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.
It was a low-risk trip for al-Bashir with high symbolic value for his Arab backers, who argue that carrying out the ICC’s arrest would further destabilize Sudan as the Darfur conflict between the Arab-led government and ethnic African rebels enters its seventh year.
Only Jordan and two other tiny Arab League members, the Comoros and Djibouti, are party to the ICC charter, but can take no action on Qatari soil. Arab foreign ministers have endorsed a draft resolution for the summit rejecting the ICC’s arrest warrant.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has said that al-Bashir should be arrested once he leaves Sudanese airspace, but it was unclear whether any military forces were monitoring his flight. The United States does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons. But President Barack Obama earlier this month denounced the “genocide” in Darfur.
The Sudanese government’s battle against rebels in the western Darfur region has killed up to 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million from their homes since 2003, according to the United Nations.
Clearly, no Arab leader is keen to accept the precedent the ICC set when it issued its warrant. But even a club of kings, strongmen and despots shames itself by breaking bread with a man accused of murder, transfer, torture and rape.
Al-Bashir has no business being in Qatar, especially considering that planned peace talks with Khalil Ibrahim, the head of Darfur’s strongest rebel group, have fallen through. Ibrahim cancelled on Friday after al-Bashir expelled aid groups such as Oxfam, Save the Children, CARE and Médecins Sans Frontières that care for people in Darfur, where 4.7 million rely on aid for food, shelter, water and protection.
Expelling these aid groups marks a new low in the war al-Bashir’s Arab-led regime in Khartoum has been waging against ethnic African insurgents since 2003. As many as 300,000 people have been killed and nearly 3 million have been driven from their homes.
These dismal developments should galvanize U.S. President Barack Obama to step up pressure on the Khartoum regime, even though George Bush’s, Obama’s predecessor refused to back the ICC.
Al-Bashir should be arrested when he ventured outside the Arab League zone. China, his powerful patron, should withdraw its support. The United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan should be reinforced with troops and equipment, so that it can protect civilians. Sanctions should be tightened on al-Bashir and his cronies. Donors should carefully re-evaluate the $1 billion aid operation in Darfur, as relief agencies are expelled. The arms embargo on Sudan should be expanded. And the U.S. and its allies should impose a no-fly zone in Darfur, to prevent al-Bashir’s air force from bombing civilians.
Al-Bashir said contemptuously that the ICC “can eat” its warrant. For Darfur’s sake, he must be made to swallow those words.