Sudanese President Omar al Bashir has taken a “victory lap” of sorts in recent weeks in the wake of his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). He traveled first to Eritrea, then to Egypt and Libya, where he and the heads of state who embraced him demonstrated a willful disregard for the seriousness of these charges.
This week, Bashir was in Qatar, welcomed at the annual summit of the League of Arab States. Bashir attended to press his case and thank members of the organization for standing by him in his fight against the ICC. Qatar, which is not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing and recognizing the ICC, was not obliged to arrest Bashir – and instead greeted him with open arms. In fact, only three Arab League members – Jordan, Djibouti, and Comoros Island – are party to the statute, and none could take action to advance the ICC warrant against Bashir on Qatari soil.
The Arab League summit proved disappointing for a number of reasons, chief among them is this statement of support: "We stress our solidarity with Sudan and our rejection of the ICC decision." While regional leaders continue to support Bashir and urge either an outright rejection of the ICC or a deferral of its investigation through the U.N. Security Council, Bashir gains some international legitimacy and can claim political cover. Until world leaders agree to stand up against genocide, and against those committing mass atrocities, this fractured process will enable Bashir and those who follow in his footsteps to continue oppressing innocent civilians.
It is unfortunate that the Arab League did not recognize that its own best interest would be served by an end to the violence in Darfur and a comprehensive peace for all Sudan. What should have been an opportunity for its members to unite and demand accountability has turned into just another excuse made at the expense of the people of Darfur. Instead of acting to become part of the solution, the Arab League chose to close ranks and prop up the political survival of President Bashir – and, by doing so, has effectively demonstrated its support for those who lead a genocide.
I hope that as we move forward, members of the League of Arab States will not only recognize the impact their engagement could have, but also play a more constructive role.
The author is a Member of Congress from Massachusetts and co-chairs the Sudan Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. This post is the third in a five-part series. Tune in next Wednesday to hear more from Congressman Capuano on Sudan.