As the Indian government gears up to host a major summit with more than 50 African countries, the four-day confab has already run into controversy as New Delhi faces pressure to arrest one of its expected guests — Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, the only sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Darfur conflict.
An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people have been killed in the western Sudanese region since 2003, according to U.N. figures, with another 2.7 million said to have been forced to flee their homes as fighting erupted between the government, rebels and allied militias. The U.N.’s children’s agency, UNICEF, estimates that around half of those affected by the brutal conflict are children.
Al-Bashir first became the subject of an ICC arrest warrant in 2009. But although the international court can indict sitting heads of state, it has no authority to enforce its writ, except with the cooperation of other governments. In al-Bashir’s cases, the ICC’s limitations came into sharp focus earlier in 2015, when, after evading arrest for years, Sudan’s President flew home from South Africa despite a local court ordering him to remain in the country until a judge decided whether or not he should be turned over the to the ICC, which counts South Africa as one of its member states. The judge did eventually rule in favor of arresting al-Bashir — but by then, he had already flown out of the country. The government in South Africa had assured al-Bashir that he would not be arrested in the country, which he was visiting to attend a regional summit.
More recently, al-Bashir was also present in Beijing in September to attend a military parade, though China is not a member of the ICC.
India isn’t either, and New Delhi argues that it is therefore under no obligation to enforce an ICC warrant. “We are not party to the Rome Statute [establishing the ICC]. We don’t have an obligation to comply to it [the ICC order],” says Vikas Swarup, the spokesperson for India’s Foreign Ministry.
But the ICC has nonetheless called for New Delhi to help it enforce its warrant. “By arresting and surrendering ICC suspects, India can contribute to the important goal of ending impunity for the world’s worst crimes,” the ICC prosecutor’s office said in a written statement to the Hindu newspaper.
While the Indian Foreign Ministry declined to confirm if al-Bashir would be arriving in New Delhi for the summit, the country’s Junior Foreign Minister traveled to Sudan in September to personally invite the African leader to attend the meeting, which commences Oct. 26.