Absconding from Justice

Lara Kajs | 12 May 2016

As Uganda swears in its leader for a fourth term, one of the many inaugural attendees is Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – the only sitting president with an outstanding arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, considered to be absconding from justice.

Al Bashir is wanted for five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape, as well as two counts of war crimes and three counts of genocide, during his campaign to crush a revolt in western Darfur. He is responsible for the deaths of more than 300,000 civilians, and the displacement of at least three million.


In March 2016, al-Bashir traveled to Indonesia to attend an Organization of Islamic Co-operations Summit. Although Indonesia is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, it is still obligated under the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I of the United Nations to adhere to the warrant and arrest al-Bashir.

However, Indonesia held a different position and defended its decision to allow the Sudanese president’s safe haven in the country to attend the summit. Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry Arrmanatha Nasir said pointedly, “It is a matter between him and the ICC, not the question of Indonesia.” From its perspective, it is the position of the government that Indonesia has the flexibility as to whether or not it chooses to exercise adherence to the Geneva Convention.

Al Bashir’s visit to Indonesia was not the first time he evaded arrest. In June 2015, he visited South Africa to attend the African Union Summit. As a signatory to the Rome Statute, South Africa was obligated to execute the warrant for Bashir’s arrest. However, as the South African courts argued over whether they should uphold the warrant and detain the leader, al-Bashir absconded in a private jet before he could be taken into custody. He avoided arrest once again during a visit to China in September 2015 to celebrate the anniversary of the end of World War II. The Chinese government refused to detain al-Bashir.

While the U.S. is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, it does support the efforts of the ICC to hold accountable, without impunity, individuals responsible for crimes against humanity in Darfur – even the sitting head of state. But Uganda IS a signatory to the Rome Statute and it is obligated to detain al-Bashir and hand him over to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

Only a Matter of Time

The warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in 2009 has not been executed largely due to the lack of willingness by other nation-states to detain him. Al Bashir has made 76 trips to 23 countries since the ICC issued the arrest warrant. As long as countries are willing to play host to al-Bashir and offer him the ability to carry on with impunity, it is likely that his many victims will not get their day in court to see justice finally served.

Omar al-Bashir is not above the law and the only way he is going to be brought to justice and forced to pay for his crimes is if any country he visits refuses to allow him sanctuary, follows the law, and hands him over to the ICC.

Photo Credit: President Kagame, President Omar al-Bashir, and Thabo Mbeki during Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa – Ethiopia, 20 April 2013 by Paul Kagame. Licensed under CC 2.0 license