Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir Set to Address UN Despite Indictment

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

If he shows up as scheduled, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will set an uncomfortable precedent when he speaks before the U.N. General Assembly.

He would be the first head of state to address the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders while facing international war crimes and genocide charges.

Al-Bashir is facing two International Criminal Court indictments for crimes linked to the conflict in the western Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003. He has applied for a U.S. visa to come to the U.N. General Assembly, and is scheduled to speak next Thursday afternoon.

The U.S. government has made it clear it does not want al-Bashir to show up in New York.

“Such a trip would be deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

But under a U.S. treaty with the United Nations dating to 1947, Washington is obligated to issue the visa as the world body’s host country. The United States has never banned a visiting head of state who wants to speak to the United Nations.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf sidestepped a question about whether al-Bashir could be arrested if he comes to the U.S.

“There are a variety of considerations in play with respect to President Bashir’s visa request, including the outstanding warrant for his arrest,” Harf said Friday. “But we’re not going to sort through these considerations publicly.  We’re going to continue to do so privately and deliberately.”

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry has said the United States is “not qualified … to offer sermons and advice” on international law and human rights and called on Washington to swiftly grant al-Bashir’s visa.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined the United States in reiterating that al-Bashir is wanted for genocide and war crimes and should cooperate with the International Criminal Court.

Elise Keppler, a Sudan expert with Human Rights Watch, said Friday al-Bashir would be met in New York with angry protests from demonstrators, and could be putting himself in legal jeopardy.

“They key here is that this is an unprecedented situation,” she said. “There hasn’t been clear legal ruling on this set of circumstances.”