Ocampo presses U.S. on Bashir visit

by in World.

Omar al-Bashir speaks during a press conference in Khartoum late on September 22, 2013.

Omar al-Bashir speaks during a press conference in Khartoum late on September 22, 2013. AFP PHOTO / ASHRAF SHAZLY

Former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo attempted to reframe the discussion around Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s provocative U.S. visa request on Monday, lamenting how the issue of justice has been sidelined in favor of discussions of the political dilemma posed by the leader’s request. Speaking to Blouin News exclusively on the sidelines of the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit, Ocampo exhorted the U.S. government to take responsibility for bringing the leader to justice: “President Obama was willing to strike in Syria, [he] should be willing to arrest President Bashir if he’s coming.”

As the ICC-indicted leader doubles down on his vow to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the U.S. has remained mum on the status of Bashir’s visa request. Though Washington has led calls for the leader to face justice over allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity, it is less than clear that the Obama White House is willing to be the one to deliver Bashir to the ICC. Unlike South Africa, which faced a similar dilemma when Bashir stated his intention to attend President Zuma’s inauguration in 2009, the U.S. is not a member of the court and is under no obligation to arrest the leader should he visit, thus depriving the White House of a valuable deterrent tactic.

The fiasco also draws greater attention to the U.S.’s continued lack of membership to the court– and the uncomfortable position it is left in as it calls for international justice while rebuffing the organization charged with its enforcement. Indeed, shining a light on this seeming hypocrisy may have been one of Bashir’s intentions.

Ocampo also dismissed the idea that Bashir should have immunity as a head of state: “There is no head of state immunity for the ICC… The legal debate is will we arrest President Bashir or will he come and go?” That appears to be exactly what Bashir has set out to test. Whether the U.S. provides him with the arena to pull off his most recent political stunt and make a mockery of international institutions of justice remains to be seen.