South Sudan should not tarnish its reputation as the world’s newest nation by hosting the international fugitive, Omer al-Bashir, a coalition of South Sudanese civil society organizations said yesterday. Bashir is scheduled to visit South Sudan in the coming weeks to try to resolve a bitter dispute over oil, among other outstanding issues from the 2005 peace agreement.
Earlier this week, South Sudan’s chief negotiator Pagan Amum told a press briefing in Juba that the government has “problems to settle” with Bashir, and that since they are not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), they are under no obligation to arrest him.
“Although the government of South Sudan may not be legally obligated to arrest Bashir, to host him in this manner sends the wrong signal to both the international community and the survivors of his atrocities,” said Dong Samuel Luak, secretary-general of the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS).
Since independence on 9 July 2011, South Sudan has struggled to establish itself as a nation committed to rule of law and accountability in the face of endemic inter-communal violence, a security sector that commits human rights abuses with impunity, and massive challenges of post-conflict reconstruction. In his independence day speech, president Salva Kiir declared his government’s intent to ratify the core international human rights treaties that proscribe the minimum standards by which states must treat their citizens.
South Sudanese civil society actors have voiced concerns about what Bashir’s visit may signal given the government’s complacency about committing itself to international human rights standards. “When Bashir is greeted at Juba international airport with all the pomp and circumstance of a visit by a head of state, he will have won an important victory before he even steps off the plane,” said Edmund Yakani, program coordinator of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO). “South Sudan will join a short list of nations that have tacitly supported Bashir’s crimes by failing to treat him as the indicted war criminal that he is.”
Adding to the symbolic importance of the event, the announcement of Bashir’s visit coincided with an important milestone for international justice. On 14 March, the ICC found Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, guilty of serious war crimes. The first ever verdict from the ICC was hailed as “an important step forward” by UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Proponents of international justice maintain that the Lubanga verdict and similar verdicts from other international tribunals demonstrate that the international justice system can be effective at holding perpetrators of the most heinous international crimes accountable.
“Sooner or later Bashir will have to account for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for which he is indicted by the ICC,” said Boutros Biel, executive director of the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA). “The government should demonstrate that it takes international crimes seriously by refusing to meet Bashir in Juba and immediately moving to ratify the Rome Statute and the core human rights treaties.”