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US opposition as Sudan’s Al Bashir visits China

September 1 - 2015 BEJING / WASHINGTON
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 1, 2015 (Li Tao/Xinhua)
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 1, 2015 (Li Tao/Xinhua)

President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan arrived in China on Tuesday and was welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping as “an old friend”. The USA voiced its opposition to the country inviting the accused war criminal, but China’s Foreign Ministry defended the invitation. Activist groups are baffled that Al Bashir was able to travel there, and plans to attend a UN session later this month.

Meeting in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People, Xi lauded the partnership between the two countries. “You are an old friend of the Chinese people,” Xi told Al Bashir, according to a pool report. “China and Sudan are like two brothers that are also good friends and partners. Mr Bashir coming to China shows our partnership is strong.”

Al Bashir himself said he was very happy to have been invited to the parade to mark the defeat of Japan and the end of World War II, which happens on Thursday and will see 12,000 troops marching through the centre of China's capital city.

The Sudanese president was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2009 and on genocide charges in 2010, all related to the conflict in the Darfur region.

States that are members of the ICC are obliged to act on arrest warrants. China and the USA are not signatories to the ICC but both are permanent members of the UN Security Council, which referred the Darfur case to the court.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters that, as China is not a member of the ICC, relevant issues will be handled “on the basis of the basic principles of international law”, without elaborating.

Leaders of 30 countries, including Russia and Venezuela, will attend China’s World War II parade. President Obama was among the Western leaders who declined invitations.

Plans for New York summit

Speaking in Washington on Monday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the USA continues to believe Al Bashir should not be welcome to travel until he faces justice. “We oppose invitations, facilitation or support for travel by persons subject to outstanding ICC warrants.”

Toner said in a daily press briefing on 4 August that he was unaware that the accused war criminal planned to attend the United Nations summit after the annual General Assembly near the end of September. News of Al Bashir’s plan to participate first emerged on 3 August when his name appeared on the provisional itinerary of speakers. When asked whether Al Bashir would be attending the summit, Sudan’s Deputy UN Ambassador Hassan Hamid Hassan said: “Yes” but gave no further details.

The USA, as the United Nations’ host country, is obliged by treaty to issue visas to visiting heads of state, even those it finds distasteful. Toner said the next day that he was unaware a visa had been requested, but that they have been “very clear how we feel about the president of Sudan and that he’s wanted for crimes, and we want to see him held accountable.”

Right groups outraged

“It is outrageous that anyone would welcome him into their border without arresting him,” Tom Andrews, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group, told the NY Times on Thursday.

Elise Keppler, acting director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that “Omar Al Bashir should be in The Hague facing justice, not in China celebrating at their World War II event.”

The Save Darfur Coalition, Andrews said, has begun to “lay the legal groundwork” for Al Bashir’s possible arrest in the US, should he go through with his plan to attend the UN summit in New York.

Al Bashir’s travels

Al Bashir, who rejects the authority of the ICC, has managed to travel within Africa and the Middle East. He last travelled to China, which has significant interests in Sudan’s oil sector and supports his government, in 2011.

Last June, however, he was forced to flee an African Union summit in South Africa, after the country’s high court ruled that he should be banned from leaving pending the outcome of a hearing on his possible arrest.

(Reuters, AFP, NY Times)

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