Twelve South Sudanese civil society groups today sent a letter to President Salva Kiir Mayardi, expressing concern at the South Sudan government’s invitation to President Omar al-Bashir – sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – to attend the April 2012 presidential summit in Juba.This letter was supported by 19 African civil society organizations and international organizations with a presence in Africa, including Human Rights Watch.
Dear President Salva Kiir Mayardit,
We, the undersigned South Sudanese civil society organizations, with the support of human rights organizations across the African continent, are writing to express our deep concern about the invitation that the government of South Sudan has extended to President Omar al-Bashir to attend the April 2012 presidential summit in Juba. With open fighting now reported along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, it appears increasingly unlikely that Bashir will accept the invitation. Nonetheless, we urge the government of South Sudan to adopt a policy of holding any meetings with Bashir and other Sudanese officials wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) outside of South Sudan.
No nation knows President Bashir’s cruelty more than South Sudan. Since Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989, countless numbers of our people have been killed and displaced by the actions of his regime. Over the course of the war, Khartoum extended its criminal warfare methods to other marginalized regions in Sudan. In Darfur, Bashir’s regime instituted a particularly brutal campaign of mass killings and ethnic cleansing that left more than 300,000 people dead and several million displaced.
In response to these grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 1593 (2005), referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC. The Resolution called on all United Nations member states—whether or not they were party to the Rome Statute—to cooperate fully with the Court and its prosecutor.
Four years later, the ICC issued two warrants for Bashir’s arrest on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Overnight, Bashir’s ability to travel became severely restricted. In accordance with Resolution 1593, responsible nations across the globe have refused to receive him. With each refusal, the survivors of Bashir’s atrocities come closer to seeing justice done in their lifetime and to knowing that Bashir will never again subject others to a similar pain and torment.
As a nation that has suffered so much at the hands of Omar al-Bashir, South Sudan has a moral obligation to the survivors of his atrocities take a principled stance on the warrants for his arrest. The millions of South Sudanese who have lost loved ones to Bashir’s criminal acts have the same interest in seeing him held accountable as the women and children that continue to be raped in killed in Darfur and the hundreds of thousands of people that are now at risk of conflict-induced famine in Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile.
We congratulate you and your negotiating team for maintaining open channels of communication with representatives of the government of Sudan and for making progress on the ‘four freedoms’ agreement. The presidential summit and its implications for peace between Sudan and South Sudan should not be understated.
But to host the international fugitive, Omar al-Bashir, in Juba, to turn a blind eye to the warrants for his arrest, to grant him leave to set foot on South Sudanese soil for the first time since independence, does a disservice to the survivors of his atrocities. For little more than a public relations exercise, South Sudan could join the short list of countries that have tacitly condoned Bashir’s crimes by failing to respect the ICC’s warrants for his arrest.
Your Excellency, we strongly urge you to adopt a policy of holding any meetings with Omar al-Bashir and other Sudanese officials wanted by the ICC outside of South Sudan. We also call on the government of South Sudan to demonstrate that it is committed to rule of law and accountability by moving quickly to ratify the Rome Statute and international human rights treaties.