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Human Rights Groups to Kenya: Arrest al-Bashir

Almost two dozen African civil society and international human rights organizations are urging Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, if he returns to Kenya to attend a regional bloc meeting on the upcoming independence referendum in South Sudan.

Twenty-three organizations with offices in 13 African countries have sent a letter to Kenyan President Kibaki, expressing concern that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir may try to attend an Intergovernmental Authority on Development meeting in Nairobi in late October or early November.

Njonjo Mue, who works with the Nairobi-based International Center for Transitional Justice, says the organizations want Mr. Kibaki to make clear that another visit from the Sudanese leader to Kenya will not be tolerated.

President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki (File)

President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki (File)

"The letter we have written to the president is to remind the government of Kenya's obligation under the Rome statute and to be prepared to arrest and hand over Mr. Bashir or not to allow him into Kenyan territory," said Mue.

Omar al-Bashir has two warrants out for his arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on charges of genocide and war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the western Darfur region of Sudan. Kenya is a signatory to the Rome statute that requires states to cooperate with the ICC, which includes the execution of arrest warrants.

On August 27, al-Bashir shocked human rights and civil society groups by appearing as a guest of the Kenyan government at the historic signing of Kenya's new constitution in Nairobi. The following day, ICC officials reported Kenya to the U.N. Security Council and to the Assembly of States Party to the Rome Statute, requesting that they take any measure they deem appropriate against Kenya.

The government in Nairobi argued it could not act against the Sudanese leader because as a member of the African Union, Kenya was bound by an AU resolution, passed in July, which discouraged members from arresting al-Bashir.

Mue says the Kenyan government was wrong to put its obligations to the African Union ahead of its obligation to uphold international law.

"Important as that resolution may be, it cannot be used as an excuse to defy the ICC," said Mue. "Remember that other members of the African Union, such as South Africa, Botswana, and Ghana have indicated that they will not abide by the African Union resolution because they rightly believe they are bound by their obligation under the Rome statute."

Mue says the Kenyan section of the International Commission for Jurists is planning to obtain an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir from the local courts here in anticipation of his second visit to Kenya.

Human rights organizations have sharply criticized Kenya for showing a lack of commitment to the International Criminal Court, which is also investigating possible crimes against humanity committed in Kenya after the disputed presidential election in late 2007. Prominent cabinet ministers and businessmen are believed to be on the list of people under scrutiny for their involvement in the ethnic violence that killed nearly 1,500 people.