Is Chad hanging its head in shame in refusing to arrest Bashir?

President Bashir was oozing with confidence as he stepped off the plane in N’djamena yesterday.  This, to me, suggests that he knew he would be pretty safe from arrest during his trip to Chad.  If he did have any concerns then clearly there were allayed when he was warmly greeted by President Idriss Déby.

I suppose his coolness is unsurprising. After all, when I make arrangements to visit people I don’t often see, I would normally call ahead to confirm that it’s still fine for me to go along.  

It’s likely that Sudan’s President would have done the same, and sought a cast-iron guarantee that his neighbouring country wouldn’t have handcuffs and armed police at the ready as he stepped off the plane.

The decision not to arrest President Bashir is disappointing given that Chad has signed up to, and ratified the Rome Statute – meaning that Chad has a legal obligation to arrest and surrender any suspect named in an arrest warrant regardless of their rank or position.   Omar al Bashir – who recently had genocide added to his list of charges against him – meets the criteria for being a perfect candidate for arrest.

But although disappointing, perhaps it’s not too surprising that President Déby wasn’t waiting with cuffs, given that Omar al Bashir is the sitting President of Sudan – Chad’s neighbour.  Most of us prefer not to pick a fight with our next door neighbour, unless we’re moving home the next day.

As well as that, Chad and Sudan know all too well what it is to fight with each other and both countries are keen to put a line under a long proxy war which raged between both countries from 2003.  In trying to make amends, it’s unlikely that either neighbour would want to stoke the fires again.

Since 2003, nearly three million people were forced to leave their homes and approximately 300,000 people were killed in the Darfur conflict which spilled across the borders to eastern Chad.

Amnesty and others have found evidence of unlawful killings (including mass summary executions), widespread and systematic rape, forced displacement, and widespread destruction of houses and villages, targeting mainly African, sedentary populations in Darfur.

Chad’s defended its decision not to arrest President Bashir by describing the ICC as having an ‘anti-African bias’.  

It is certainly the case that the ICC has so far focused much of its attention on the African continent. However that surely cannot be a sufficient reason for Chad to ignore its obligations under international human rights law, and to allow someone suspected of involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity to be greeted with such a warm reception.   

President Déby’s decision to not arrest President Bashir sends a chilling signal to the rest of the world that a country which has ratified the Rome Statute can so blithely ignore it.  Such a decision is damaging not only to the millions of people scarred by the human rights violations committed in the Darfur conflict, but it has also served a major blow to international justice. 

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