Cross-posted from the United to End Genocide blog.
In a reprehensible move, Sudanese President and International Criminal Court indictee Omar al-Bashir applied for a United States visa to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly next week.
If granted a visa, Bashir’s visit would be unprecedented and his first to the U.S. since warrants for his arrest were issued by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf stated that “we condemn any potential effort” by Bashir to attend the General Assembly meeting and suggested that before presenting himself to the UN headquarters, Bashir should present himself to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer for his crimes in Darfur.
Echoing those sentiments, Samantha Power, the United States Ambassador to the UN called Bashir’s potential visit “deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate.” However, neither the United States government, nor the United Nations has stated whether or not Bashir will be issued a visa and be permitted to travel to the U.S. to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly.
While generally the United States abides by an agreement with the UN not to “impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of representatives of Members or officials of the United Nations,” there appears to be legal backing to deny Bashir’s visit and to arrest him should he land on U.S. soil.
United Nations Security Council, in its Resolution 1593 (2005), while referring the situation in Darfur to the Court, urges all States and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully with the Court which has issued warrants for his arrest.
Congress has also spoken. The Genocide Accountability Act of 2007 allows the prosecution of acts constituting genocide committed by an alleged offender who is “brought into, or found in, the United States, even if the offense occurred outside the United States.”
Bashir’s crimes are not a relic of the past. To this day, Bashir continues his reign of impunity, attacking Sudanese civilians and using food as a weapon of war by intentionally blocking international humanitarian organizations from delivering aid to those who need it most.
Sudanese military forces are also carrying out aerial bombardments – as recently as September 13 – and ground attacks on civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee from their homes.
We call on the U.S. to join the likes of nations such as Zambia, Botswana and France, who have denied Bashir permission to visit their countries. Allowing Bashir onto U.S. soil sends the wrong message and would be a huge disgrace to the victims of the genocide in Darfur.
While we are encouraged by the statements by Ambassador Power and the spokeswoman from the State Department, words alone are not enough. The U.S. must take a strong stand against impunity and deny President Bashir entry to the United States. We must stand with the victims, not the perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities.