New York - More than 30 human rights and civil society organisations called for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Tuesday's fifth anniversary of his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The groups expressed grave concern in an open letter to the United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court at the continuing impunity that Al-Bashir enjoys despite being accused of “the world's most heinous crimes”.
They accused the international community of not only failing to arrest Al-Bashir but also allowing the Sudanese government “to continue its crimes in Darfur and throughout Sudan with impunity”.
The court issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in March 2009 on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in Darfur. It added three counts of genocide to the charges against him in July 2010.
Darfur has been gripped by bloodshed since 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The UN says 300 000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes.
Al-Bashir refuses to recognise the court's authority and has repeatedly said he will not turn himself in to stand trial. He has travelled to a number of African countries which are parties to the Rome Statute that established the permanent war crimes tribunal - including Chad, Congo, Djibouti and Nigeria - but their governments refused to arrest him as they are required to do.
Last month, the African Union urged its 54 members to “speak with one voice” to prevent criminal proceedings at the ICC against sitting presidents. It previously asked for a deferral of criminal proceedings against Al-Bashir.
In the letter, the human rights and civil society organisations named a number of countries that are not parties to the Rome Statute which Al-Bashir also visited - China, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Sudan.
“Countries that choose not to co-operate with the ICC arrest warrants are cultivating impunity and facilitating continued abuses,” the letter said. “The failure to hold Bashir accountable not only has devastating effects inside Sudan, but it also sends the wrong message to leaders like Syrian President (Bashar) Assad and others perpetrating extreme violence throughout the world, for example in the Central African Republic.”
The organisations urged all 15 Security Council members and the 122 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute “to stand for justice and make this year the last year of Bashir's impunity”.
In December, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda accused the Security Council of prolonging the conflict in Darfur by its failure to take action to arrest Al-Bashir. She said the council's inaction and paralysis in the face of increasing violence against civilians has emboldened Al-Bashir to ignore council resolutions and left victims with no hope for justice.
The organisations urged the council and all other UN members to offer incentives for Al-Bashir's arrest and consider withholding military or economic aid from countries that refuse to arrest him.
Among the signatories of the letter are United To End Genocide, Physicians For Human Rights, Enough Project, International Justice Project and seven groups supporting the people of Darfur. - Sapa-AP