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Activists Urge Arrest of Sudan President Bashir in Uganda

Sudan President Omar Bashir inspects the guard of honor after his arrival in Entebbe, Uganda, Nov. 13, 2017. Rights groups on Monday urged Ugandan authorities to arrest the visiting president of Sudan, who has long been wanted by the International Criminal Court for serious crimes.

Human rights activists are urging Ugandan officials to arrest Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who is in Uganda for a three-day official visit, and turn him over to the International Criminal Court to face trial.

Bashir was indicted in 2009 on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for events in western Darfur. He was also charged in 2010 with genocide during the Darfur conflict.

Mohammed Ndifuna, executive director of the Human Rights Network, read a statement on behalf of dozens of human rights groups in Uganda.

“As a state party to the Rome Statute, Uganda has an unequivocal obligation to cooperate with the ICC in relation to the enforcement of warrants of arrest issued against the arrest of Omar Bashir,” Ndifuna told South Sudan in Focus.

Legal obligation

Sarah Kihika, who works for the International Center for Transitional Justice, insists that Uganda should arrest Bashir because of its legal obligation to the ICC. She said economic interests or political relations between Uganda and Sudan should not be the priority.

“We are not appealing to the president’s benevolent nature, we are a country governed by the rule of the law. Our position is grounded in the Rome Statute, and it’s grounded in the constitution, which recognizes the enforcement of international treaties that Uganda is a party to,” Kihika told South Sudan in Focus

Kihika said rights activists are not “begging Mr. (Yuweri) Museveni to fulfill his obligations,” but rather asking the Ugandan government to “fulfill its obligations under the law.”

Previous visit to Uganda

However, it is not Bashir's first visit to Uganda since being indicted by the ICC. He traveled to Uganda in May to attend the inauguration festivities for Museveni, who had been elected for a fifth term in office.

Ugandan officials say this week’s visit is aimed at improving bilateral ties between the two countries, which were not close in the 1990s and early 2000s when Museveni and Bashir accused each other of supporting rebels fighting in each other's countries.

Ndifuna compared Kampala's hosting of Bashir to committing a sexual crime against a loved one.

“It is like having a neighbor who rapes your daughter but is a neighbor that you sell your produce to and you have to weigh whether you are going to take action against the neighbor and the possibility of your own starvation maybe glaring in your face,” Ndifuna said.

UN sanctions?

Kihika warned that Uganda could face United Nations sanctions if it fails to arrest President Bashir this time.

“We ask the government to maintain a consistent approach that stands with the victims in Darfur, who have waited for years for justice, and it could do that by arresting and surrendering Bashir to face trail,” Kihika told VOA.

Uganda government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said his country cannot arrest a sitting head of state.

Opondo told South Sudan in Focus that Uganda believes Bashir is instrumental in bringing stability to the region.

“We believe that the constructive engagement with the government of Sudan and Mr. Bashir on a number of regional fronts are yielding fruits. And, therefore, you can see that Sudan itself is stabilizing South Sudan, is stabilizing Somalia, is stabilizing DRC,” Opondo said.

Bashir has visited several other African nations since facing ICC indictments on war crimes, including Chad, South Africa and South Sudan.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.