NAIROBI - Analysts and rights advocates are expressing concern about reports that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been invited to a summit this weekend in Saudi Arabia which U.S. President Donald Trump also expects to attend. The invitation to Bashir has stirred controversy, as the Sudanese leader has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The International Criminal Court considers al-Bashir a fugitive from justice and has sought his arrest since 2009.
Elise Keppler, an associate director at Human Rights Watch, says interactions between a U.S. president and an alleged war criminal would send what she calls a terrible signal.
“Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been charged by the International Criminal Court with the most grave crimes under international law, for alleged responsibility for abuses in Darfur. The charges are genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. There really is nothing more serious,” said Keppler.
Eric Reeves, senior fellow at Harvard University's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, says Trump should boycott the event altogether.
“To the extent that Bashir can travel without problem, it weakens the ICC and so Trump is contributing to that with his presence,” he said.
Calls to Sudan’s foreign minister and government spokesman for response went unanswered.
David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University and an expert on the International Criminal Court. He says Saudi Arabia has welcomed Bashir in the past.
“So this isn’t a departure from Saudi policy on Bashir, but it is of course notable that he’s being invited to a summit where President Trump would be present and U.S. officials have not met with Bashir. And they’ve had a policy of avoiding meeting with Bashir and so Saudi Arabia has put the United States in a difficult position here,” he said.
Bosco adds that the Trump administration’s position toward the ICC is still vague.
“It is important to recognize that we’re in a different world with the Trump administration regarding the ICC than we were with the Obama administration," he said. "The Obama administration, while it wasn’t going to push to join the court, was fairly friendly toward it. The Trump administration – it’s much less clear how friendly this administration is going to be to the court.”
The United States is not a member of the ICC, but a State Department official provided a statement that the U.S. opposes “invitations, facilitation, or support for travel by any person subject to outstanding ICC arrest warrants, including President Bashir.”
The U.S. lifted some sanctions against Sudan in January, with then-President Barack Obama citing “positive actions” by the Sudanese government. A State Department official said there could be a permanent revocation of sanctions in six months if progress continued.
Since his indictment, Bashir has traveled to ICC-member countries such as South Africa and Jordan, which have an legal obligation to arrest him, but so far, have not.
Because Saudi Arabia is not a member of the ICC, the country does not have the same obligation.