KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan said on Saturday its president was free to travel across Africa after heads of state of the African Union voted not to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s indictment of him.
The global court has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges he masterminded human rights abuses in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
Under the court’s founding statute, member countries are required to arrest suspects within their territories. Bashir has only visited states not bound by the court’s rules since the warrant was issued in March.
African Union heads of state meeting in Libya on Friday adopted a motion saying they would not cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its order to arrest Bashir or surrender him.
The African Union wants a deferment of the indictment, saying the warrant compromises peace efforts in Darfur.
Khartoum said on Saturday the decision meant Bashir would not fear arrest even if he visited South Africa and 29 other states on the continent signed up to the global court.
“The president is free to travel anywhere in Africa, including those countries that have ratified the ICC’s Rome statute,” said Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig.
“We think that Africa is now one front against the ICC ... Most Africans believe it is a court that has been set up against Africa and the third world. (The African Union decision) makes us feel that we are not alone, that people are supporting us.”
Bashir did not attend the inauguration of South African President Jacob Zuma in May, amid reports Pretoria had warned Khartoum that the Sudanese leader could be arrested.
Al-Sadig said there would now be no obstacles to a visit.
“Maybe at one point, the new South African government expressed some negative views ... As South Africa was part of the decision at Sirte, it implies that this means he would be able to travel there.”
“As far as we are concerned, whenever there are meetings in the African continent, or in Arab countries, he will go there,” added al-Sadig.
The spokesman said he thought the African Union’s decisions were immediately binding on members, so Bashir would not have to wait for further approval from the parliaments of each state.
Al-Sadig added he was not aware of any immediate plans for the president to embark on a wider African tour.
Rights group Amnesty International criticized the AU vote, saying it undermined the credibility of the 53-member body.
“This decision by the African Union member states shows a disdain for those in Darfur who suffered gross human rights violation and makes a mockery of the AU as an international body,” said Amnesty Africa director Erwin van der Borght.
“By supporting a wanted person accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, it undermines the credibility of states which are party to the Rome Statute and the AU as a whole.”
Washington accuses Bashir of committing genocide during the conflict in Darfur, that surged in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Sudan government, accusing it of neglecting the western region.
Estimates of the death count range from 10,000, according to Khartoum, to 300,000, according the United Nations. Sudan accuses Western media of exaggerating the violence.
Editing by Charles Dick