Sudan's embattled President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is in Qatar's capital, Doha ahead of an Arab Summit scheduled to begin today despite an arrest warrant against him issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The summit, however, is expected to support President Bashir officially over the ICC-issued directive despite deep divisions in the Arab world over the indictment. Some political observers believe Qatar will not enforce the arrest warrant since it is not a signatory to the ICC charter establishing the court. The Hague-based international court issued the arrest warrant after Bashir was accused of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.
Claude Salhani is the editor of the Middle East Times newspaper. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Bashir's presence tarnishes the significance of the Arab summit.
"It is going to be an interesting meeting, especially given the fact that the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon is going to be present at this meeting. And he will attend this Monday's session in the presence of Mr. Bashir, and that is going to be an embarrassing moment for Ban Ki-moon. Other than that, I think the Arab League seems to be divided, nothing new in this sense over the issue of Bashir. Some are supporting him, others are not. What's interesting is Mubarak (Egypt's president) is not going to attend this meeting, although he had hosted Bashir a few days ago," Salhani noted.
He said the motivations behind the support of Bashir over the ICC arrest warrant could be attributed to several reasons including noncooperation.
"It seems that some are making a stance and some are saying like Colonel Gaddafi of Libya for example said that this is an attempt by west to re-colonize their former colonies. He has always got something interesting to say, and he called it a practice of first-world terrorism. So this is a sign of defiance, I guess. On the one hand, I think Qatar is in a peculiar situation, where as the host of this meeting, it would have been hard for them to say no to President Bashir. But on the other hand, Qatar is not a signatory. They haven't signed a charter, which obliges member states to arrest those indicted once they land on their territory. So they get off the hook that way," he said.
Salhani said if an Arab League member country has not signed the charter establishing the ICC, it is under no obligation to enforce the arrest warrant against Sudan's President Bashir.
"First of all they have to be signatories of the charter. I don't think all of them are. So it depends on if they have signed the declaration of the charter. Then they are obliged by international law to abide by the ruling and to arrest those indicted by the International Criminal Court. But as long as they haven't signed, it's up to the individual leader of that country to decide whether he wants to follow the international ruling or not. He is under no international obligation to do so," Salhani pointed out.
He said President Bashir's presence will undermine the importance of the Arab summit in Doha.
"In a way it is disadvantage that Mr. Bashir is going to be in Qatar because he is going to take away some of the spotlight on the real issues, and I'm not saying this is not important. But I'm saying for the Arab world, there are some much more urgent matters that they need to discuss and focus on rather than the presence or not of one particular man. Because the presence of President Bashir is not going to change anything in global geo-politics, whereas decisions made on the ground there can change things in the Middle East," he said.
This is Bashir's fourth international trip after the ICC issued an arrest warrant against him accusing him of being the brain behind the massacre of Darfuris in the troubled Darfur region. He arrived in Qatar Sunday, after visits to neighboring Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya last week.
Some in the Arab world including Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi have sharply denounced the arrest warrant, describing it as an orchestration by western countries to re-colonize the Middle East and adding that it amounts to first-world terrorism.
Experts believe that up to 300-thousand people have died and 2.7 million driven from their homes in the Darfur conflict since 2003. According to the joint UN- African Union peacekeeping mission, currently around 15-thousand strong is deployed in Darfur, but its forces remain under-equipped, and it has been attacked by warring factions.
The United Nations and humanitarian workers say Sudan's order to expel the 13 aid groups, including Oxfam GB and CARE International punches a giant hole in the safety net that has kept many Darfur civilians alive during six years of war in the vast, arid region of western Sudan.
The ICC accuses Bashir of leading a counterinsurgency against Darfur rebels that involves rapes, killings, and other atrocities against civilians. Bashir rejects the charges and refuses to deal with the ICC. Arab and African countries are pressing the UN Security Council to defer any prosecution for at least a year, hoping to defuse the crisis. They contend that the move will worsen conditions on the ground and put in jeopardy the lives of people living in Darfur.
Khartoum expelled 13 of the largest aid groups operating in Darfur as part of its defiant response to the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant. The Bashir government accuses the agencies of working closely with the ICC.