Omar el-Bashir, a source of African-European conflict?

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Sudanese President al-Bashir is still in Chad where he is attending a summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD). The European Union (EU) Thursday urged Chad to honour its obligations towards the International Criminal Court (ICC) by arresting the Sudanese president who has been on its soil since Wednesday. N’Djamena, meanwhile, has chosen to fine tune its recent reconciliation with Khartoum and will likely suffer repercussions from the ICC. Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) is standing by its position as it continues to refuse to cooperate with the ICC in order to preserve peace in the troubled country.

Omar el-Bashir who is still on an official visit to N’Djamena, since last Wednesday, has thrown a delicate challenge to the International Criminal Court (ICC). A challenge that has led Catherine Ashton, chief diplomat of the European Union, to urge Chad to arrest the Sudanese President following a March 2009 arrest warrant that was issued against him by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Darfur region in the western part of the country. Darfur has been rocked by civil war since 2003. On July 12 Mr. Bashir was again charged with genocide in Darfur.

A statement released by the office of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union Thursday urged “Chad to respect its obligations under international law to arrest and surrender those indicted by the ICC,” adding that “The most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole – genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – must not go unpunished, and their prosecution must be ensured by measures at both domestic and international level.” Two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed the same sentiments.

Chad-Sudan politics

But the Chadian Minister of Interior, Ahmat Mahamat Bachir, Wednesday declared that Omar al-Bashir who has been on Chadian soil since Wednesday afternoon attending a summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) had “nothing to fear” whilst in N’Djamena. N’Djamena is signatory to the Treaty of Rome, and therefore under legal obligation to respect decisions from The Hague-based international court of justice.

And Idriss Deby, Chadian head of state’s refusal to adhere to the central African nation’s ICC commitment is intended to foster closer ties with Sudan. The two countries are in a process of reconciliation after five years of covert war, during which they accused each other of destabilization by interposed rebel activities. The new Chad-Sudan relations began in January with the signing a “Treaty of Friendship”, including a protocol to enhance border security. In light of these agreements, President Omar el-Bashir Friday met leaders of the two countries’ joint military force in N’djamena.

“We have been in deployment for the past six months on either side of the border…. Our joint collaboration is going well,” Maj. Gen. Bob Chad Bichara, commander of the joint force led by Colonel Abdullah Fatalrahim from Sudan is quoted as saying. The two heads of states have, on numerous occasions, called on rebels factions who had been under their respective protection to disarm. Tuesday, Khartoum expelled three of the leaders of the Chadian rebellion towards Doha, Qatar.

“not against ICC”

Although Chad is not the only entity to throw its weight behind el-Bashir, the reasons behind AU’s total disagreement with the ICC over the Bashir arrest warrant differ from that of Chad. Jean Ping, AU Commission Chief Jean Ping has accused the International Criminal Court of targeting African countries and of “double standards”.

While stating that the AU member countries had massively signed the Treaty of Rome, Jean Ping explained Friday before the ongoing AU summit in Kampala, that “We are not against the ICC… We have to find a way for these entities to work together and not go back to war… This is what we are doing but (Luis Moreno) Ocampo doesn’t care. He just wants to catch Bashir. Let him go and catch him.”

As the referendum on southern Sudan’s independence approaches, the AU is focused on maintaining peace in the country and has called on the United Nations to suspend the ICC warrant against Bashir. The AU has maintained its decision not to cooperate with the ICC since the first warrant was issued in March 2009. Meanwhile, the Sudanese president has been invited Sunday to participate in the AU summit in Kampala, Uganda, which is also signatory to the Treaty of Rome.

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