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Arab Leaders Urged to Press Al-Bashir on ICC Warrant, Darfur Aid Ban
Freedom House strongly urges Arab League members meeting in Qatar this weekend to press indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to rescind a ban on international aid groups in Darfur and cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Al-Bashir expelled 13 aid groups after the ICC issued an arrest warrant against him earlier this month for his role in masterminding the genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region. U.N. officials say up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes amid a campaign of murder, torture and rape by government troops and Arab militias. Al-Bashir's expulsion of the aid organizations leaves more than a million people at risk of starvation and disease.
Only three Arab League states recognize the ICC—Jordan, Djibouti and Comoros—and the league's head has promised that member nations will not act on the arrest warrant, the first to be issued for a sitting president. Freedom House urges Arab governments to instead follow the lead of nongovernmental organizations such as Cairo Institute for Human Rights and The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary who have called upon al-Bashir to respect the court's warrant.
"It would be a shame if the Arab League countries were to become known as a safe haven for indicted war criminals," said Thomas O. Melia, Freedom House deputy executive director.
"Another tragedy would be for Arab leaders to decline the opportunity even to urge Bashir to save lives and lessen the intense suffering in Darfur."
In another troubling development, Khalil Ibrahim, head of Darfur's strongest rebel group, cancelled peace talks with al-Bashir's government following the suspension of aid. The peace talks were set to be mediated by Qatar under the auspices of the Arab League and the United Nations.
"The Arab League clearly has an obligation to see that these peace talks move forward and that Sudan is able to begin healing from years of conflict in Darfur," said Melia. "Arab governments are in danger of giving al-Bashir their tacit approval to prolong the agony in Darfur in the name of retaliating against the court."
Under al-Bashir's 20-year rule, Sudan has become one of the world's eight most repressive regimes according to Freedom House’s annual survey Freedom in the World. The government, which combines a typical military junta with radical Islamism, has perpetrated a campaign of genocide against the civilian population in the Darfur region and routinely denies basic political rights and civil liberties to its citizens.
Sudan is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Sudan since 1972.
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