KINSHASA, Feb 26 – The International Criminal Court led calls Wednesday for the government of Democratic Republic of Congo to arrest visiting Sudanese President Omar Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide in Darfur.
The Hague-based ICC said Kinshasa must meet its obligations to arrest Bashir “immediately” and hand him over to the tribunal, a call echoed by international and local rights groups.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo should not shield President Omar al-Bashir from international justice,” Amnesty International said on its Twitter feed.
Bashir, 70, who in March 2009 became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC, is in Kinshasa for a summit of regional African leaders.
The ICC has issued arrest warrants for Bashir on 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.
However, he has freely travelled to several African countries who have refused to arrest him, with many on the continent accusing the ICC of singling out Africans for prosecution.
The ICC said it “reminds the Democratic Republic of the Congo of… its obligations to execute the pending decisions concerning the arrest and surrender of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir to the court.”
Almost 90 groups in the DR Congo also signed a petition calling on the government, which has ratified the treaty setting up the ICC, to arrest Bashir.
“The DRC must clearly demonstrate that it is on the side of justice and the victims, and not on the side of the suspects,” said Descartes Mpongo, of the Collective of Christian Human Rights Activists in the eastern South-Kivu province.
The groups also said they were seriously considering pressing charges against Bashir in the DRC to “obtain a national arrest warrant against him”.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International also urged the country to step in and arrest the Sudanese leader.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo should not shield President Omar al-Bashir from international justice,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, the group’s regional director for East Africa, in a statement on the Amnesty website.
“His visit to the country is an opportunity to enforce the arrest warrants and send a message that justice must prevail.”
A career soldier with Islamist leanings, Bashir’s two-decade rule has been marked by devastating wars with the many ethnic minorities of Africa’s largest country, in which he has not hesitated in the past to turn to jihadist militias to back the regular army.