Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Tunisian government to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and hand him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), when he attends the Arab League summit in Tunis this weekend.
The Hague-based court has issued two warrants for the arrest of Al-Bashir on ten charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, relating to the conflict in the western Darfur region.
“Tunisia should demonstrate its commitment to international justice by barring President Al-Bashir or arresting him if he sets foot in the country,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at HRW.
“Al-Bashir is an international fugitive who should be in The Hague to face the charges against him, not attending summits hosted by ICC members.”
Arab leaders are set to meet on Sunday for the group’s 30th annual meeting, the first time the summit has been held in Tunisia since the revolution that ousted Zein El-Abidine Ben Ali.
In July 2011, Tunisia also became the first North African country to sign up to the ICC and ratify the Rome Statute, meaning that they are willing to refer relevant crimes to the court. The arrival of Al-Bashir would put that commitment to the test for the first time.
“The ICC relies on its member states like Tunisia for cooperation in the surrender of suspects to be effective,” Keppler said. “Darfur victims, hundreds of thousands of whom have lived in refugee or displaced persons camps for well over a decade, deserve to see Al-Bashir face justice at long last,” Keppler added.
Despite being wanted since 2009, Al-Bashir frequently travels around the world; the number of trips peaked in 2015 when he made 27 overseas visits, followed by 24 in 2017 and 23 in 2016. He often travels to countries that are not full signatories to the Rome Statute, including Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Qatar, but he has also visited full members such as South Africa and Uganda.
Last year, the ICC concluded that Jordan, also a member state, had defied its international obligations to arrest Al-Bashir, who visited the country for the previous Arab League summit. The Hague sent its finding to the UN Security Council for further action.
However, in September, Jordan appealed the decision, claiming that the Kingdom “regards Omar Al-Bashir as a sitting head of state and therefore immune to arrest”, based on the international legal principle of comity between states; the case is pending before an ICC appeals chamber.
In its statement, HRW also pointed to the excessive use of force by the Sudanese authorities against recent peaceful anti-government protests; more than 60 people have been killed and thousands arrested during demonstrations against economic austerity and political autocracy.
“The longstanding impunity for human rights violations by authorities in Sudan has fuelled ongoing brutality,” the statement concluded.