by ALAN COWELL on 27 Aug 2010 | Comments
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan arrived in Kenya on Friday to participate in a ceremony inaugurating the country’s newly minted constitution, flouting international demands for his arrest on genocide charges.
Mr. Bashir faces two arrest warrants: one issued in July by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on three counts of genocide and one from March 2009 for war crimes and crime against humanity. In theory the warrants could be enforced by any of the court’s member countries, which include Kenya.
The charges relate to the conflict in the western Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 300,000 people have died and more than two million have been uprooted by almost a decade of fighting between the government and rebels. Mr. Bashir denies the charges.
News reports said Mr. Bashir was escorted into Uhuru Park in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, by the minister of tourism, Najib Balala, to attend the ceremony marking the adoption of the new constitution, supposed to hasten democratic reform in Kenya, a nation generally depicted as pro-Western.
The role of the international court is particularly sensitive in Kenya because last April its judges authorized formal criminal investigations of the political leaders who organized the violence that convulsed the country after its disputed election in 2007.
Kenya’s political leaders had earlier refused to set up a special tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the killings, saying Kenya’s existing courts could handle the cases.
Under the Rome Statute establishing the court in 2002, which Kenya has ratified, member states are supposed to cooperate with the court, which has no means of enforcing its warrants. Nonetheless, Mr. Bashir traveled last month to Chad — also a member state of the international court — without being arrested.
The African Union, the continent’s main representative group, has criticized the warrant and urged that it be suspended.
The readiness of President Mwai Kibaki to receive Mr. Bashir drew strong criticism from Human Rights Watch, a rights advocacy group based in New York.
“Kenya will forever tarnish the celebration of its long-awaited constitution if it welcomes an international fugitive to the festivities,” said Elise Keppler, senior counsel in the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch in a statement on Thursday. “Even worse, hosting al-Bashir would throw into question Kenya’s commitment to cooperate with the I.C.C. in its Kenyan investigation.”
“Whether Kenya allows a suspected war criminal into Kenya is a test of the government’s commitment to a new chapter in ensuring justice for atrocities,” Ms. Keppler said. “The Kenyan government should stand with victims, not those accused of horrible crimes, by barring al-Bashir from Kenya or arresting him.”
The international warrants for his arrest have largely restricted Mr. Bashir’s travels to friendly countries in Africa and the Middle East that have resisted Western pressure to do the court’s bidding.
The celebration of Kenya’s new constitution, written to alleviate longstanding problems hindering good government for years, came after voters approved the document with overwhelming enthusiasm in a referendum earlier this month. It has been billed a potential turning point Kenya’s postcolonial history, addressing issues that have haunted the country since independence from Britain in 1963.
The constitution was drawn up after disputed elections in 2007 led to ethnically driven clashes that killed more than 1,000 people.
source: New York Times