Visit By Sudan's Bashir Puts Heat On Chad Defying an international warrant for his arrest, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has traveled to neighboring Chad. But there's no evidence Chad will attempt to turn Bashir over to the International Criminal Court, which hopes to try Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide.
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Visit By Sudan's Bashir Puts Heat On Chad

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Visit By Sudan's Bashir Puts Heat On Chad

Visit By Sudan's Bashir Puts Heat On Chad

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There is an international arrest warrant out for the president of Sudan. Last week the International Criminal Court added genocide in Darfur to an already long list of charges against President Omar al-Bashir. That didn't stop him from making a trip abroad - in this case to the neighboring state of Chad.

Chad is a member of the International Criminal Court, so activists say it has an obligation to detain the Sudanese president and hand him over. But there's no sign that will happen, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELLE KELEMEN: Chadian authorities have made clear that Omar al-Bashir shouldnt fear arrest. The two neighbors only recently normalized relations. And as Chad's ambassador to Washington pointed out, that's a peace process that the international community encouraged.

Ambassador Mahamoud Bechir says the Sudanese president is an invited guest in Chad for a regional conference.

Ambassador MAHAMOUD BECHIR (Chad's Ambassador, United States): And it would become even worse, and immoral, to invite your guest and surprise him by arrest warrant. So we will treat Bashir with dignity, with respect, with all the dues of an invited guest.

KELEMEN: Human rights activists, like Elise Keppler, are furious, calling on Chad to live up to its obligations as a member of the International Criminal Court or ICC.

Ms. ELISE KEPPLER (Senior counsel, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch): Chad is really distinguishing itself in a very unfortunate and frankly shameful way as the only and first ICC state party to harbor an alleged war criminal.

KELEMEN: Keppler is senior counsel with the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. She's hoping other countries will pressure Chad in the coming days to either arrest Bashir or persuade him to turn himself in to face charges for atrocities in Darfur.

Ms. KEPPLER: These are extremely serious crimes. We're talking about war crimes, crimes against humanity and most recently, genocide. These are not insignificant violations. And Chad is doing a disservice to its own reputation and its professed commitment to seeking redress for victims.

KELEMEN: Chad's ambassador, though, points out that his country is not alone. The African Union passed a resolution last year encouraging members not to enforce the arrest warrant against the Sudanese president. Chad's Ambassador Bechir says that his country feels more obliged to the African Union than to the International Criminal Court.

Mr. BECHIR: We are Africans before everything. So we respect the position and the decision of the African head of states.

KELEMEN: At the State Department yesterday, spokesman P.J. Crowley said he'd leave it to Chad to explain why its not arresting Sudan's president Bashir. Crowley says the U.S. believes there can't be peace without justice.

Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, State Department): As weve said many times, ultimately, President Bashir must present himself to the court and answer the charges that have been leveled against him.

KELEMEN: The United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court, but has been among the most outspoken about atrocities in Darfur.

That puts the U.S. in an awkward place, according to John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Co-founder, Enough Project): They've said we support justice...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRENDERRGAST: ...and accountability for the genocide in Darfur, but then they don't support the International Criminal Court, which is the only institution in the world that is trying to do something about the accountability and justice for the genocide in Darfur. So its a very strange situation that the U.S. has found itself in.

KELEMEN: Without its own police force, the International Criminal Court relies on countries to help bring suspects into custody.

Prendergast says if Chad does nothing to bring Bashir to justice, the only hope is that the Sudanese leader will get overly confident and start to travel more.

Mr. PRENDERRGAST: And every time he sets foot out of the country, he's going to be at risk, traveling in air space over other countries that are willing to do something. He's going to be taking some significant chances.

KELEMEN: On the other hand, if Bashir travels safely in and out of Chad, that could simply underscore the weaknesses of the International Criminal Court, which has outstanding arrest warrants for several others involved in the conflict in Darfur.

Michelle Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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