Last week, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir decided to thumb his nose at the International Criminal Court by paying an official state visit to Chad. As a fully signed up and ratified member of the Rome Statute (which founded the ICC), Chad is technically supposed to have arrested Al-Bashir upon arrival due to his outstanding arrest warrant for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and – added just last week – genocide.
Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, yet again, the ICC looked just as weak and ineffective as always as it called for Chad to do ‘the right thing’ while having absolutely no means to make it do so. Al-Bashir, as any good internationally shunned leader would, has made the most of this powerlessness, claiming his trip as “more than a double victory”.
And so it was. As well as strengthening ties with notorious frenemy Chadian President Idriss Deby, this trip was the first taken to a country that recognised the ICC and was thus something of a risk. As for Chad, while it may have earned wide condemnation from the UN and the EU for its decision, it was an opportunity to establish itself as something more than just an international puppet, as well as curry favour with a fairly important neighbour.
No doubt it is the ICC who have come off worst with Al-Bashir’s little holiday. Not only was its helplessness over arresting one of the world’s most wanted men freely advertised, but the familiar claim of its racism was rehashed too, as Chad, in a frenzy of support for Sudan, accused it of anti-African bias. While this claim may not be strictly true (let us not forget that of the 5 investigations currently being carried out into situations in Africa, 3 were referred to the Court by the governments of those countries themselves), it has been one that the Court has had to fight off multiple times in its short history and has not been helped by the African Union taking this opportunity to reiterate its decision to order member states not to co-operate with the ICC. So far, as all indications go, most of its members are listening. Except for arguably the strongest member: South Africa, who has just released a statement that Bashir had better not try his luck in Johannesburg.
One can’t help but feel pity for the Court; afterall, it is simply trying to arrest someone accused of extremely serious crimes. And if Al-Bashir really is as innocent as he claims, why not defend himself in a Court of law and clear his name once and for all?