The president of Sudan, wanted for years by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and other crimes in the Darfur conflict, set off a growing storm of anger on Wednesday with his plan to attend the United Nations General Assembly, as human rights advocates urged governments to oppose the visit and the court’s judges asked the United States to arrest him if he dares to come.
American officials confirmed on Tuesday that the Sudanese leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, had submitted a visa request to attend the General Assembly, which runs through the end of the month. As the host country, the United States is obliged to grant visas to foreign heads of state or representatives who wish to attend the General Assembly, regardless of their reputations or any disputes the American government may have with them.
Visas have historically been granted to world leaders who are widely despised or mistrusted in the United States, including Fidel Castro of Cuba, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Nikita S. Khrushchev of the Soviet Union.
But Mr. Bashir’s case is different because he would be the first visitor to the United Nations with a standing warrant for his arrest by the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The court has accused him of criminal responsibility for atrocities, including genocide, committed in the western Darfur region of Sudan, where more than 200,000 people were killed and more than two million uprooted by almost a decade of fighting between the government and rebels.
American officials, including Samantha Power, the new American ambassador to the United Nations, have denounced his plan to visit, but it is unclear what they can do legally to block it. The United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court and is not bound by provisions that require members to carry out arrest warrants on fugitive defendants.
But the United States is a member of the Security Council, which voted to refer prosecutions for Darfur atrocities to the International Criminal Court, and the American government has supported the court’s efforts to hold Mr. Bashir and others to account. Ms. Power said Monday that instead of coming to the General Assembly, “it would be more appropriate for him to present himself to the I.C.C. and travel to The Hague.”
Mr. Bashir has made no secret of his contempt for the International Criminal Court and has come to personify the problem of impunity that the court has increasingly confronted in prosecuting cases. But a visit by Mr. Bashir to the United Nations, which helped to create that court, would represent a new level of audacity.
“I’m shocked by the fact that he’s even thinking about it,” said Jordan Paust, a professor of international law at the Law Center of the University of Houston. “He really does seem to be thumbing his nose at the U.N. and the Obama administration.”
The Sudanese government, which as of Wednesday had not received a State Department response to Mr. Bashir’s visa request, castigated Ms. Power and other officials who said he should not come.
“The president’s visit will be to the U.N. headquarters,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The hosting nation — the United States — does not have the legal right to object to the participation of any official from a full member state in the international organization in U.N. activities.”
The ministry added: “The government of the United States is not qualified morally, politically or legally to give advice on respecting international humanitarian law and human rights in light of its well-known track record of committing war crimes and genocide against entire populations, the last being its invasion of Iraq in 2003.”
Alarmed at the prospect that the United States may have no choice but to grant Mr. Bashir a visa, Human Rights Watch issued an urgent call on Wednesday for the Security Council to publicly oppose his attendance.
“If al-Bashir turns up at the U.N. General Assembly, it will be a brazen challenge to Security Council efforts to promote justice for crimes in Darfur,” said Elise Keppler, the associate director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. “The last thing the U.N. needs is a visit by an I.C.C. fugitive.”
Later Wednesday, the court’s judges also took the extraordinary step of asking the Justice Department to take Mr. Bashir into custody if he proceeded with the visit on the legal theory that even countries that are not members of the court can decide to cooperate with it. In a statement, the judges said, “informed by the Office of the Prosecutor of Omar al-Bashir’s potential travel to the United States of America,” they had “invited the competent U.S. authorities to arrest Omar al-Bashir and surrender him to the court, in the event he enters their territory.”
In March 2009, judges at the International Criminal Court ordered Mr. Bashir’s arrest, charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity for playing an “essential role” in the murder, rape, torture, pillage and displacement of large numbers of civilians in Darfur. In 2010, the court issued a second arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir, this time on three counts of genocide.
While he has taken some international trips since then, Mr. Bashir has been forced to skip other events abroad because of the charges.
In July, Mr. Bashir made a brief appearance at an African Union summit meeting in Nigeria but departed after human rights groups filed a lawsuit calling for his immediate detention on an international arrest warrant.