(New York) – Turkey should not allow President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, an accused war criminal, to attend a conference in Istanbul, and should arrest him if he sets foot in Turkey, Human Rights Watch said today.
Recent news reports indicate that al-Bashir has been invited to a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which starts in Istanbul on November 9, 2009, and that he plans to attend. Turkish officials have indicated that they do not intend to arrest al-Bashir should he visit Turkey.
"Turkey's international image will plummet if it welcomes a man wanted to answer for some of the most heinous abuses against civilians in the world today," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "Turkey, after all, serves on the UN Security Council, whose referral led to the warrant against him."
The arrest warrant for al-Bashir was issued on March 4 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. Sudan has challenged the ICC's investigations and prosecution of crimes in Darfur and has refused to cooperate with the ICC.
Turkey is not a state party to the ICC and thus has no legal obligation to arrest al-Bashir as a result of the warrant. At the same time, the UN Security Council - in resolution 1593, which referred Darfur to the ICC in March 2005 - urges all states to cooperate with the ICC. Turkey became an elected member of the UN Security Council for two years in January 2009.
In addition, Turkey has for some time sought membership in the European Union. All EU member states are parties to the ICC, and are strongly committed to the court and accountability for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The ICC's Darfur cases
To date, the ICC has issued arrest warrants for three suspects for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The others are for Ahmad Harun, the former minister of state for the interior and the former minister for humanitarian affairs, and Ali Kushayb, an alleged commander of the Janjaweed militia. The ICC also has issued a summons to appear for a Sudanese rebel leader, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, for alleged war crimes committed as part of an attack on an African Union peacekeeping base, Haskanita.