Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has thrown down the gauntlet in yet another stunt designed to embarrass his international detractors. After requesting a U.S. visa on Tuesday in order to attend the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York, the leader has left Washington in an uncomfortable bind while raising the hackles of international organizations like the International Criminal Court, which has a warrant out for his arrest.
As of Thursday, the visa application is still pending review, according to the U.S. State Department, as American authorities appear to be stalling for time. The prospect of allowing the ICC-indictee within its borders is as unappealing to Washington as the likely aftermath of a rejection of the head of state’s request. As the U.N. headquarter’s host nation, the U.S. is required to comply with its obligations to grant visas to any head of state wishing to visit. To flout this obligation would play into Bashir’s hands by inviting an outcry from African leaders and helping to perpetuate the narrative of international double standards.
However, permitting Bashir’s attendance allows the leader, who is wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, to continue to make a mockery of international justice. The Sudanese President pulled a similar stunt back in July when he attended an African Union conference in Nigeria, a move designed to taunt the International Criminal Court. Bashir’s continued evasion of justice, and the international players that continue to enable it, has infuriated the court. However, unlike Nigeria, the U.S. is not a member of the ICC and would be under no obligation to arrest the leader if he were eventually allowed to enter. Though that has not stopped the ICC from asking.
The Obama White House will not arrest Bashir — and would not even assuming the president had not been handed two major foreign policy defeats in recent weeks. The best ICC can hope for is that the Sudanese leader withdraws his request. There is no indication that that possibility is in the cards as Khartoum has only upped the ante, threatening unspecified measures should the U.S. not respond in time for the leader to attend the GA. As the clock ticks down, Washington will most likely have to bend to their international obligation. They can take heart in the fact that they will not even be the biggest loser in this mess — that would be the ICC, which will watch powerlessly as its reputation takes yet another beating.