(New York) - The Chinese government's invitation to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir is an affront to victims of heinous crimes committed in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said today. Media reports indicated that al-Bashir will travel to China on June 27, 2011, at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, to discuss Sudan's relationship with China and promoting peace in Sudan.
In 2009 and 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Sudan has persistently obstructed the ICC's efforts to ensure that the alleged perpetrators answer the charges against them for crimes in Darfur.
"Beijing will signal its total disregard for victims of heinous crimes in Darfur if it welcomes al-Bashir," said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. "Al-Bashir's flouting of international arrest warrants should be cause for condemnation, not for an invitation. Beijing should instead be using its influence to press for justice in Darfur."
While al-Bashir has yet to be taken into custody, his world has been shrinking, Human Rights Watch said. A number of anticipated visits to ICC member and non-member states have been cancelled following public outcry. These include visits to Central African Republic, Kenya, Turkey, Zambia, and most recently, Malaysia. Other states, such as South Africa, have publicly indicated that al-Bashir will be arrested if he enters their territory.
The situation in Darfur was referred to the ICC in 2005 by the UN Security Council, when it adopted resolution 1593, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The binding resolution urges all states to cooperate with the court in its Darfur investigations and prosecutions. Although China is not a party to the ICC, it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and should respect the binding nature of such resolutions.
"Allowing al-Bashir into China would fly in the face of UN Security Council calls for cooperation with the ICC's investigation in Darfur," said Dicker. "Flagrant disregard for council resolutions will undercut China's credibility as a council permanent member. China should use its leverage to press for justice and an end to violence, in Darfur, but also in Abyei and Southern Kordofan."
The Sudanese government has been implicated in recent months in renewed human rights violations committed in Darfur and abuses against Sudanese in the disputed areas of Abyei and Southern Kordofan. Violations include the continuous bombing of civilian areas, killings of civilians, massive looting, and the displacement of tens of thousands of people from their homes.
Only a few months ago, China voted in favor of the second Security Council referral of a situation to the ICC, of Libya. China received plaudits for its vote on the referral under resolution 1970. Welcoming al-Bashir is at odds with China's recent support for the role of the ICC in seeking to ensure justice for serious crimes committed in violation of international law.
At the time of the worst atrocities in Darfur, China was the principal arms seller to Sudan and the principal purchaser of Sudanese oil. That is all the more reason that China should actively assist justice efforts stemming from those atrocities, rather than help al-Bashir to evade justice, Human Rights Watch said.
"China has a chance to show it supports the people of Africa," said Dicker. "Beijing should do the right thing and withdraw the invitation or arrest al-Bashir should he enter Chinese territory."