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Sudan: Bashir Inauguration Should Be No-Go Zone

Governments Should Not Meet with Officials Wanted for War Crimes

(New York) - Governments that are committed to justice for atrocities committed in Darfur should not attend the inauguration of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan on May 27, 2010, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today.  This includes the 111 states that are parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the United States and other members of the United Nations Security Council, which referred Darfur to the ICC in 2005.

President al-Bashir is subject to an arrest warrant issued by the ICC in March 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in Darfur. Sudan has consistently obstructed cooperation with the ICC's investigations and prosecutions for crimes in Darfur.

"Al-Bashir is a fugitive from justice who should be arrested, not feted." said Elise Keppler, International Justice Program senior counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Attendance at al-Bashir's inauguration would send a terrible message to victims in Darfur, and globally."

ICC states parties are obligated to cooperate with the court under the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, and they should demonstrate support for its work, Human Rights Watch said. UN guidelines, which limit contact by UN representatives with persons wanted by international criminal courts to essential contacts, state that attendance at "any ceremonial or similar occasion" should be avoided.

Attendance at the inauguration would be particularly unfortunate in the lead-up to the first review conference of the ICC's Rome Statute, which will take place in Kampala, Uganda from May 31 to June 11. The review conference will be a moment of significant attention to the court's work and an important time to showcase state party dedication to the cause of international justice, Human Rights Watch said.

"Diplomats attending al-Bashir's inaugural would be making a mockery of their governments' support for international justice," Keppler said.

EU member states face particular questions over their possible attendance at the inauguration, Human Rights Watch said.  The EU has a common position in support of the ICC, and the EU has regularly denounced Sudan's failure to cooperate with the ICC's investigations and to execute pending arrest warrants. In June 2008, the EU foreign affairs ministers and the EU heads of government and state publicly pledged that they would consider "additional measures" against those responsible for non-cooperation with the ICC on this issue. In addition, the EU Council is expected to adopt conclusions the day before the inauguration reiterating its unwavering support for the ICC.

"The EU can't have it both ways," Keppler said. "It should be consistent in its efforts to bring justice for crimes committed in Darfur."

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