The India-Africa summit to be held in Delhi in October 26-29 is expected to be a grand affair, with a record 52 of 54 African countries confirming their acceptance. However there may be some anxious moments as the International Criminal Court (ICC) has called for India to arrest one of the guests expected to attend, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes by the ICC.
“By arresting and surrendering ICC suspects, India can contribute to the important goal of ending impunity for the world’s worst crimes,” the Office of Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told The Hindu in a written statement. “It is important to note that United Nations Security Council resolution 1593 urged all States, including non-States Parties to the ICC as well regional and other international organisations, to cooperate fully with the ICC. This includes arresting Mr. Al-Bashir,” the Prosecutor said.
However, India is not a signatory to the ICC, which is an independent international court not part of the U.N. system which has 123 member States. Officials told The Hindu there was no question of regarding the ICC’s plea, as the U.N. Security Council resolution wasn’t internationally binding on non-member States.
“We will be compliant with our statutory international legal obligations,” official MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said. Mr. Bashir was invited personally by Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh, who travelled to Khartoum on September 19.
President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes and genocide during the Darfur conflict of 2003 in which 300,000 people were killed. Among the charges against Mr. Bashir is the funding of the pro-Arab Islamist militia, Janjaweed, accused of carrying out systematic ethnic cleansing of black non-Arab African groups who took up arms against the Bashir government.
In June 2015, the South African government faced deep embarrassment as a Pretoria court issued an order to bar Mr. Bashir from leaving the country and then ordered his arrest, when he landed in Johannesburg to attend an African Union summit.
However, the government allowed President Bashir to return to Khartoum, and threatened to quit the ICC if it was criticised.
“The AU’s position is clear, and we refuse to let the ICC decide matters of sovereignty,” says Ethiopian Ambassador to India Gennet Zewide, who is the Dean of African Ambassadors in Delhi, adding “What South Africa did was correct, and we don’t anticipate India having any trouble over this issue.”
Sudan Ambassador to India Hassan E. El Talib called the ICC’s statement to India “ridiculous.” “We are proud that India has taken a leadership position in opposing the Rome statute that set up the ICC,” he told The Hindu. Alleging that the ICC had taken “racist” positions against several African leaders, Ambassador El Talib called the ICC “a club of western countries driven by international NGOs who want to keep certain African countries down.” Significantly, 34 African States are members of the ICC.
In the next few weeks ahead of the African Summit, which is the biggest gathering of world leaders in India since the 1983 Non-Aligned Summit, it is expected the government will face calls like the one from the ICC, from international human rights groups like Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch. Both groups had issued strong statements during President Bashir’s South Africa visit, with Amnesty International calling him “a leader who is accused of being complicit in the killing, maiming, torture of hundreds of thousands of people in a conflict that has blighted the lives of millions.”
However, officials in the MEA dismissed any idea that the Sudanese President’s visit would be controversial. “If we thought there was any controversy, why would we have invited the President here?” asked a senior official.
“It is difficult to understand under what principle India, a nation known for the rule of law and belief in the value of human dignity, would coddle a man accused of slaughtering his people rather than his countless victims,” said Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, calling for India to arrest the Sudan President