The annual general debate of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will open on September 24, 2013. During the general debate, heads of state and government and other high officials give statements at the Assembly and this year, the president of the Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, wants to do the same.
However, in 2009, Bashir became the first sitting president indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on international war crimes and genocide charges. This places the United States in a diplomatic bind on granting him a visa to attend the UNGA debate.
According to Colum Lynch,
“There were two basic treaties, right after the creation of the U.N., that makes it pretty clear that the U.S. has an obligation as the host to allow pretty much anybody that the U.N. invites to come into the U.N., and to leave it sort of without being harassed. There’s also immunity protections, there are customary international law provides sort of immunity protections for heads of state. But the convention on immunity also provides the U.N. officials, foreign delegates coming to the U.N. immunity from investigation, prosecution, arrest. So according to those general treaties, they have to do it.”
The US State Department confirmed Bashir’s visa request and its spokeswoman, Marie Harf, condemned “any potential effort” by Bashir to attend the UNGA 68th session but the department’s officials keep mum on its decision. The new US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, described Bashir’s visa request as “deplorable,” “cynical” and “hugely inappropriate.”
On Thursday, September 19, 2013, a host of celebrities and Sudan groups wrote a letter to President Obama suggesting additional steps to “dissuade Bashir from persisting with his travel plans.”
These include denying the visa request on national security grounds and exploring the possibility of filing a criminal case against Bashir, should he be granted visa, under Genocide Accountability Act of 2007 which allows anyone present in the US to be prosecuted for genocide, even if the crime was committed in another country.
Although visas have previously been granted to leaders of countries who the US was critical of such as Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Castro of Cuba and Ahmadinejad of Iran, Bashir presents a different case with standing arrest warrants by the ICC against him.
Bashir’s last visit to the US was in 2006. He is scheduled to speak at the Assembly on Thursday, September 25, 2013.