Bashir's bid for New York trip embarrasses US, UN

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir speaks during a one-day summit on oil with his South Sudan's counterpart on Sept 3, 2013 in Khartoum.  UN leader Ban Ki Moon wants Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to answer war crimes charges, a spokesman s
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir speaks during a one-day summit on oil with his South Sudan's counterpart on Sept 3, 2013 in Khartoum.  UN leader Ban Ki Moon wants Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to answer war crimes charges, a spokesman said on Tuesday as controversy mounted over Bashir's bid to attend a UN summit next week. -- PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - UN leader Ban Ki Moon wants Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to answer war crimes charges, a spokesman said on Tuesday as controversy mounted over Bashir's bid to attend a UN summit next week.

Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur, has embarrassed the US government and United Nations by seeking a visa to enter the United States to attend the annual UN General Assembly next week.

The United States opposes Bashir attending the annual meeting, but it has refused to say whether it can or will block the Sudanese leader.

The United Nations is letting the US authorities take the lead while indicating Bashir's presence would be a problem.

"The question of whether the United States is to grant President Bashir a visa to allow him to attend the general debate is, first and foremost, a matter for the United States to determine consistent with the applicable rules of international law," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"President Bashir is subject to an arrest warrant issued by the ICC. The secretary general would therefore urge him to cooperate fully with the ICC," the spokesman added.

The United States has given a similar message.

"Such a trip would be deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate," the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said Monday.

She added "it would be more appropriate for him to present himself to the ICC and travel to The Hague." The embarrassment was highlighted by Human Rights Watch's UN lobbyist Philippe Bolopion. "The last thing the UN needs these days is a surprise visit by a head of state who is running away from the ICC and has been effectively banned from large parts of the world," he said.

"UN member states should make clear to him in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome at the UN party," he added.

The ICC issued arrest warrants for the Sudanese president arrest in March 2009 and July 2010 and he now faces 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the decade-old Darfur conflict.

ICC signatories have a duty to arrest Bashir. But the president has since played cat-and-mouse with ICC investigators and supporters, frequently travelling to some African countries. However Saudi Arabia refused in August to let him use its airspace to reach Iran and he had to return to Khartoum.

The United States does not participate in the court but is a strong supporter.

The UN headquarters in New York is extra-territorial but Sudanese citizens would need a visa to enter the United States to get there.

"Sudan insists on its right to take part in the meetings of the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations and requests the United States to meet its obligations as the headquarters' host nation by granting the necessary entry visas as quickly as possible," a Sudanese foreign ministry statement said.

The United Nations has a 'host country' accord with the United States which sets out the conditions for the UN operation in New York as well as immunities for officials and representatives of UN members.

The 1947 accord states that the US authorities "shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district" by representatives of UN members.