Inviting a War Crime Accused to Indo-Africa Summit Raises Eyebrows

Human Rights organisations are miffed at India’s invitation to controversial Sudan’s president, writes Anoo Bhuyan.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (front) at Khartoum Airport on August 29, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

India invites a wanted genocide suspect to New Delhi this week. How will India balance politics, legalities and human rights?

Travel is an arena where both power and politics can play out – our own Prime Minister, prior to assuming office, was barred from visiting the US and the UK. But jammed doors open with a high-office, as we saw in the case of Prime Minister Modi who now travels freely and widely. Another case in point is Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.

Al-Bashir has been invited for the India-Africa Forum Summit happening in New Delhi this week, along with all 54 heads of state in Africa. The last time India saw these many heads of state at once was when Indira Gandhi hosted the 1983 Non-Aligned Movement Conference. The controversy at hand is that Al-Bashir has been accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The charges include murder, rape and torture. But neither India nor Sudan are party to the ICC and his arrest in India is unlikely.

The International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo looks at a video of Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir during a press briefing in Paris, July 13, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)
The International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo looks at a video of Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir during a press briefing in Paris, July 13, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

Hosting a War Crime Accused

Al-Bashir took power in a coup in 1989 and has been in power since. Sudan has seen conflict between the north and south, in the east, South Kordofan, Western Upper Nile and most prominently in the western region of Darfur. The conflict reached a milestone in 2011, when South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in a referendum.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir waves as he leads victory celebrations after the armed forces defeated the rebels in South Darfur, April 28, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir waves as he leads victory celebrations after the armed forces defeated the rebels in South Darfur, April 28, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

For Ahmed Elhassan (name changed on request), a Sudanese refugee in NCR who fled Darfur, there is no ambiguity on what India should do. Elhassan lost his father in the conflict. His mother and siblings remain in Sudan, but he is too afraid to ever visit them. “I am a genocide survivor. We suffered a lot and that’s why I can never support the president. If India lets him in, then it means India destroys human rights,” he says.

In a written communication to this reporter, the ICC draws on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1593 in 2005, which referred the conflict in Darfur to the ICC. This resolution is key because although India is not part of the ICC, the UNSC urges even non-members to cooperate fully with the ICC. This includes arresting Al-Bashir and not extending immunity to him. “By arresting and surrendering ICC suspects, India can contribute to the important goal of ending impunity for the world’s worst crimes,” says the ICC.

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

India’s Stand Can Be Challenged

International organisations also issued statements invoking the same resolution with Human Rights Watch asking India not to welcome him and Amnesty International going further, calling on India to arrest him.

Sudanese protesters from Darfur chant slogans during a protest, demanding that the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir step down, in Cairo, May 15, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)
Sudanese protesters from Darfur chant slogans during a protest, demanding that the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir step down, in Cairo, May 15, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

A lawyer at the ICC in the Hague, who wished to remain anonymous, explains that the UN can challenge the Indian defence of not being a party to the ICC under a Chapter VII resolution. This can create an obligation for member states like India to cooperate under the UN Charter.
“You cannot just invite a suspect of genocide to your country and then say you are a responsible member of the international community,” the lawyer says.

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

All eyes will be on India just as in the case of South Africa earlier this year. Al-Bashir visited the country amid controversy. Although the Pretoria high court barred his movement, the government allowed him to leave, kicking off global debate and an ongoing internal conflict between the government and judiciary.

Snapshot

A Diplomatic Blooper?

  • India-Africa Summit marred by controversy as Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, accused of war crimes is invited by India.
  • Human Rights Watch asks India not to welcome Al-Bashir while Amnesty International asks India to arrest him.
  • India is not part of the International Criminal Court (ICC) but ICC urges even non-members to cooperate.
  • Ministry of External Affairs, only confirms that Al-Bashir has been invited, does not confirm whether he will attend.

Securing One’s Interest

It is political and economic agendas which often override concerns of victims like Elhassan. India tends to deal with controversy quietly and cleanly. “India is eager for the participation of as many African heads of state as possible to bolster the stature of the India-Africa Summit,” explains Luke Patey, author of ‘the New Kings of Crude’ on the scramble for Sudan’s oil. With Sudan, India has a special interest in keeping this a clean affair owing to significant Indian oil and infrastructure investments in Sudan and South Sudan. It is in India’s interest to see that things remain stable and very often this means maintaining a status quo.

Vikas Swarup, spokesperson at the Ministry of External Affairs, only confirms that Bashir has been invited but not if he will attend. He further says that the ICC “have not asked us anything.” This disconnect is strange as the ICC pretrial chamber and registry usually act quickly on potential arrests. The fact that the Indian government can say that it has not received communication from the ICC referring to resolution 1593, also means India will not be obliged to clarify its moral position and position under the UNSC, as India will fall back on the argument that Swarup made: “Sudan’s president coming here has no relationship because we are not members of the Rome Statute” which mandates the ICC.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her address at the India-Africa Summit in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo: PTI)
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her address at the India-Africa Summit in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo: PTI)

Manoj Sinha, director of the Indian Law Institute, sums up this issue. “On the one hand India has its obligation as a member state of the UN. But now that India has invited every African leader to participate, it is the obligation to ensure their safety. Otherwise, the government should have not invited Al-Bashir. The invitation itself is negating the Security Council.”

“These problems cannot be swept away, especially if India is keen on doing business in Sudan and other African countries facing conflict,” says Patey. What this episode will show is whether India will deal with the controversy in its typical low-key manner, or if India will actually rock the status quo with something that will make people like Elhassan happy but dramatically change human rights and bilateral and regional politics.

(Anoo Bhuyan is a journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached at www.anoobhuyan.wordpress.com or @MickeySugarles.)

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