President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo today for a conference of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Congolese media reported. Bashir faces charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur, in Sudan.
“Congo as an ICC member has an obligation to arrest and transfer President al-Bashir to The Hague, where he is wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said Georges Kapiamba, president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, based in Kinshasa.
Under the ICC’s Rome Statute, all member countries, including Congo, have an obligation to cooperate with Bashir’s arrest. Past calls by the African Union for non-cooperation with his arrest do not negate that legal obligation.
Other African ICC member countries have avoided visits by al-Bashir by cancelling proposed trips, inviting other Sudanese officials to travel to their countries, or relocating conferences. This includes South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, and Kenya.
“Having long worked closely with the ICC, Congo should demonstrate that it stands on the side of Darfuri victims, and arrest al-Bashir,” said Descartes Mpongo, executive secretary of Christian Activists Actions for Human Rights in Shabunda of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Impending visits by al-Bashir have prompted an outcry by human rights organizations across Africa. Most recently, in July 2013, al-Bashir abruptly left Nigeria less than 24 hours after he arrived to attend an African Union conference there, and without making his scheduled presentation, in the face of public protests by Nigerian rights groups and court action to compel al-Bashir’s arrest.
“Al-Bashir is a fugitive from justice who belongs in one place only: The Hague,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Since Congo didn’t prevent al-Bashir’s visit, they should take the next step and arrest him.”