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Bashir's visit to Kenya stirs anger

By | August 27th 2010

By James Ratemo

Human rights groups on Friday critisised the Kenyan government for allowing Sudanese president Omar Hassan Al Bashir to take part in the celebration of the country's new constitution.

The Human Rights Watch, the global organisation champions civil rights of people, sent a statement urging Kenya to arrest Al-Bashir on Friday if he enters Kenya but call went unheeded.

The International Center For Conflict and Policy (ICPC) also called for immediate arrest of Bashir who is wanted by the†International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged human rights violations in Darfur.

"Inviting President Bashir to Kenya is an act of impunity and†a clear indication that Kenya is not ready to cooperate with the ICC. His presence here is an insult to the people of Kenya and the victims of the post-election violence," said ICPC executive director Ndung'u Wainaina.

Foreign Affair minister, Moses Wetangula was later reported saying, Kenya could not arrest Bashir since he was a state guest hence it could be improper for Kenya to embarrass him.

The promulgation ceremony went on as planned with the crowds often ululating as dignitaries streamed in.

President Kibaki displays a copy of the signed and sealed Constitution he promulgated on Friday. Several head of states, including Sudann’s president Omar el bashir, joined Kenyans during the Friday’s historic day. Photo: PPS

Basir’s unexpected arrival however caused a stir.

Bashir, an ICC indictee of crimes against humanity, was in Kenya attending Kenya’s rebirth to the amazement of many Kenyans and human rights activists.

Despite being a wanted man, Bashir jetted to Kenya to attend the country’s rebirth on Friday without fear of being arrested and handed over to the International Criminal Court, which has already issued two warrants of arrest against him.

The Kenya military was there, heads of states and other dignitaries saw him but could not touch him and so Bashir, just like any other dignitary witnessing Kenya’s rebirth through promulgation of a new constitution, joyously sat there unmoved.

Kenya is party to the Rome Statute, the ICC’s treaty that requires states to cooperate with the court in executing warrants of arrest against fugitives.

President Bashir arrived at Uhuru Park at 9.15am escorted by Tourism Minister Najib Balala.

But his arrival did not go down well with a section of the dignitaries already seated at the historic site. Even some people in the crowd could be heard exchanging concerns about the man’s presence at the momentous event.

Kenyans were exchanging messages on facebook and via SMS about their displeasure to have Bashir attend the historic fete.

"I am seated in a dais metres away from the main dais. The mood is, sorry, was great and palpable until the indictee Bashir walked in. How embarrassing for us! Am ashamed to have this man among us on this day,’ said human rights lawyer Haroun Ndubi.

‘Where is Ocampo? Omar Al-Bashir is within reach…he is spoiling our day…today there is no room for impunity," said Semaj Itosno via twitter.

US ambassador Michael Ranneberger left his seat walked to where Sudan ambassador in Kenya, Majok Guandong was and engaged him in a short conversation.

Already, the Human Rights Watch, the global organisation which works to protect civil rights of people, sent a statement urging Kenya to arrest Bashir if he enters Kenya.

"Kenya should bar Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from entering Kenya or arrest him for trial at the International Criminal Court if he enters Kenyan territory," reads the statement in part.

"Kenya will forever tarnish the celebration of its long-awaited constitution if it welcomes an international fugitive to the festivities," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel in the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.

"Even worse, hosting al Bashir would throw into question Kenya’s commitment to cooperate with the ICC in its Kenyan investigation."

"Whether Kenya allows a suspected war criminal into Kenya is a test of the government's commitment to a new chapter in ensuring justice for atrocities…the Kenyan government should stand with victims, not those accused of horrible crimes, by barring Bashir from Kenya or arresting him," said Keppler.
Bashir even exchanged pleasantries with his colleagues after the ceremony was over. Definitely he was not scared as Kenya had no intention at all to disturb his peace.

The latest warrant of arrest against Bashir was issued in July 2010 on charges of genocide. The first one was issued in March 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bashir’s visit is in itself interesting as Kenya is also undergoing ICC investigation into crimes committed following the country's General Elections of December 2007.
Bashir is the first serving head of state to be indicted by The Hague-based court.

Kenya is signatory to the ICC treaty known as the Rome Statute making it legally obligated to arrest Bashir and surrender him to the court.

However, the African Union instructed its members in two decisions over the last year not to apprehend the Sudanese president but fell short of threatening to punish any country in the continent, which would cooperate with ICC.

Kenya becomes Bashir’s second visit to an ICC state party after Chad, where he visited in July. Before that he avoided visiting any members of the court for fear of arrest. He had shunned an invitation to the Inter-government Authority on Development summit early this year in Nairobi.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in May that he would pursue six Kenyans over the 2007 post-election violence which claimed 1,200 lives and present a case before close of 2010.

The Kenyan government has pledged full cooperation with the ICC in its investigation in Kenya. As recently as June 2010, the government reaffirmed this commitment at the ICC's review conference,
which took place in Kampala, Uganda from May 31 to June 11.

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