— Rights groups are calling for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as he makes his first visit to Nigeria since he was indicted by the International Criminal Court
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived at the African Union HIV/AIDS conference along with leaders from across the continent, including Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Human Rights Watch
and the Nigerian Coalition on the International Criminal Court
are calling for his arrest in accordance with a 2009 ICC indictment
. The Hague-based international court charged President Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, where hundreds of thousands were killed and millions displaced.
The Nigerian rights coalition chair, Chino Edmund Obiagwa, said all countries that are members of the international court were bound by law to arrest anyone who has been indicted, including heads of state.
“All state parties to the ICC have a responsibility to execute it, whether he is a sitting president or not,” said Obiagwa.
Sudan's president has traveled to other African countries, including Kenya, Djibouti and Chad without incident, but Obiagwa said Nigeria should be more likely to make an arrest because of the large role it played in peacekeeping in Africa, with troops in several countries, including Sudan.
Other countries, like South Africa and Botswana have threatened to arrest Bashir if he visits.
“Nigeria has not demonstrated any precedent of non-cooperation with the ICC. On the contrary, given the role Nigeria plays in international peace and security and given the threats in the region in terms of security it is important that Nigeria supports international justice mechanisms, especially the ICC, rather than undermining it,” said Obiagwa.
However, Nigerian officials said they would not be arresting Bashir because he was invited to Nigeria by the African Union. The AU has previously urged African countries to withdraw from the ICC, saying the court is racially biased and targets African leaders. Bashir was the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the court, followed by the heads of Libya and Kenya.
“If they’ve invited heads of state, Nigeria will not stop anybody. If AU decides to take on, or to host, or to invite any head of state, Nigeria will not have any hand in it. So I want to believe that since this is an AU summit and the AU has invited him, since he’s here, it’s the responsibility of the AU,” said Nigerian Minister of State for Africa Viola Onwuliri.
When President Bashir was originally indicted he denied the charges, saying they were "not worth the ink they are written in."
The Nigerian Coalition on the International Criminal Court petitioned the courts in Abuja to order an arrest. However, Obiagwa says even if the court was so inclined, there’s not much chance Mr. Bashir will be in Nigeria long enough for it to take action.
(Ubale Musa contributed to this report from Abuja.)