Sudan's Bashir defies arrest warrant with trip to Uganda

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese officials said President Omar Hassan al-Bashir returned on Thursday from a one-day visit to Uganda made in defiance of an international warrant for his arrest on charges of genocide.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir attends the swearing-in ceremony of Uganda's president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni at the Kololo independence grounds in Kampala, Uganda, May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Edward Echwalu

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 and 2010, accusing him of masterminding genocide and other atrocities in his campaign to crush a revolt in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

Uganda is a member of the ICC, which means it is required to act on the arrest warrant. The trip was Bashir’s first to Uganda since the ICC warrants were issued and follows Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s visit to Khartoum last year.

Amnesty International had called on Uganda to arrest Bashir immediately and hand him over to the ICC.

“As a signatory to the Rome Statute, Uganda has an absolute obligation to surrender him to the ICC,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“Failure to do so would be a breach of its duty and would be a cruel betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of people killed and displaced during the Darfur conflict.”

Sudan’s official news agency had reported that Bashir would spend two days in Uganda, where he would watch Museveni being sworn in for a fifth term. But speaking to journalists at Khartoum airport after Bashir’s return, a senior Sudanese foreign ministry official said the visit had not been cut short.

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“The visit was originally planned for one day ... and most of the presidents participating left after the end of the ceremony,” Kamal Ismail said.

Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since a 1989 Islamist and army-backed coup, rejects the ICC’s authority and has flouted the warrant before, traveling inside the Middle East and Africa.

He has also visited China and Indonesia, which are not ICC members, over the past year.

Last June, Bashir was forced to flee South Africa, a member of the ICC, after a court ruled he should be banned from leaving pending the outcome of a hearing on his possible arrest.

In March South Africa’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the government against a ruling that said the state had made an error in letting Bashir leave the country despite a court order.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Writing by Lin Noueihed and Ola Noureldin; Editing by Gareth Jones