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Ignoring International Warrants, Sudan’s Leader Says He’ll Visit Moscow

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, pictured in 2015, has accepted an invitation to visit Russia next month. CreditShiraaz Mohamed/Associated Press

Genocide and war-crimes charges have long shadowed Sudan’s president, sometimes forcing him to scrap or alter travel abroad to avoid the risk of arrest and extradition to the International Criminal Court. Still, Sudan said Monday, he had accepted an invitation to visit Russia next month.

The invitation to the president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, presents a new test of Mr. Bashir’s defiance of the international court at The Hague, which issued arrest warrants for him years ago over the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Mr. Bashir’s refusal to heed the warrants has come to symbolize a broader impunity shown toward the court, the international judicial authority that was created to deal with egregious crimes in which victims have no other recourse.

The invitation to Mr. Bashir also may partly reflect a concerted effort by Mr. Putin to reassert Russian influence at a time of retreat for the United States in parts of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

Sudan announced the impending visit a few weeks before the United States will decide whether to lift a 20-year-old trade embargo against the country. Those plans were first announced on Jan. 13, but the United States said it would wait 180 days to assess whether Sudan further improves its human rights record and addresses longstanding internal strife and insurgencies including the Darfur conflict.

On Sunday, in possible anticipation of an American relaxation of sanctions, Mr. Bashir extended a cease-fire with rebels, in place for nine months, until the end of October.

Rights advocates who have closely followed Mr. Bashir said it remained possible that he could cancel what would be his first trip to Russia. He has reneged on invitations before, including one from Saudi Arabia to the Arab summit in May, where in theory Mr. Bashir could have hobnobbed with President Trump. American diplomats had urged Mr. Bashir to stay away.

But the tone of the announcement about the Russia visit, made by Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour of Sudan and carried via the official Sudan News Agency, suggested that Mr. Bashir intended to go through with it.

Mr. Ghandour said the “two sides will discuss during the visit a number of important files on the economic and trade relations as well as the political consultation and the exchange of support at the different international forums.”

In Russia, there was no official announcement of the planned visit. Some Russian news agencies carried a Reuters dispatch about it, and the headline by one agency, RBC, said, “President who is defendant at the International Criminal Court invited to Moscow.”

There was no immediate comment from the International Criminal Court. Fadi El Abdallah, a spokesman, did not return telephone or email messages.

Rights advocates, however, quickly responded.

“Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is a fugitive sought by the I.C.C. for heinous crimes committed in Darfur,” said Elise Keppler, associate director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “The victims deserve to see him travel to one place only: The Hague, to face the charges against him.”

Mr. Bashir has two warrants against him issued by the court, in 2009 and 2010. He is facing seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as three counts of genocide.

While Mr. Bashir has visited numerous nations since, he could be arrested if he visits member countries of the International Criminal Court. He must also use caution in avoiding any flight plan that includes the airspace of a court member. Neither Russia nor the United States are members. But the longstanding American policy has been to isolate Mr. Bashir and encourage other countries to respect the court’s arrest warrants.

Mr. Bashir was nearly arrested at a 2015 African Union meeting in South Africa, a court member. He was unable to leave while South African judges pondered whether he should be arrested. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa intervened, permitting Mr. Bashir to depart.


(c) 2017 The New York Times

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