KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan on Wednesday condemned the United States for suggesting that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir should turn himself in to the International Criminal Court before heading to the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.
The U.S. State Department said earlier this week that Washington received a visa request for al-Bashir, but that before going to the U.N. headquarters he should present himself to the ICC to answer for alleged crimes linked to the conflict in Sudan's Darfur. An estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003 due to the fighting between the government and rebels in the western region.
Sudan's Foreign Ministry said the United States is "not qualified ... to offer sermons and advice" on international law and human rights. Sudan's statement also criticized U.S. support for Israel, and called on Washington to swiftly grant al-Bashir a visa.
The statement from Khartoum pointed out that Washington is not itself a member of the ICC and is not bound by any of its decisions.
Even though the U.S. has welcomed al-Bashir's indictment by the ICC and will not allow its officials to meet with him, it has obligations as the host country of the United Nations to grant visas to foreign heads of state and government. It could deny the visa on other grounds, but that would risk running afoul of its U.N. obligations.
Marie Harf, a deputy spokeswoman at the State Department, told journalists Wednesday that the U.S. is "generally obligated" to admit foreign nationals traveling to the U.N. headquarters.
"But I will remind everyone that President Bashir stands accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC," Harf said. "I think those charges speak for themselves."
In a statement Wednesday, judges at the ICC said they "invited the competent U.S. authorities to arrest Omar al-Bashir and surrender him to the court in the event he enters their territory."
While the U.S. is not a member of the court, the judges stressed that the U.N. Security Council referred the Darfur case to the ICC and at the same time urged all countries to cooperate fully with the court.
Human Rights Watch said U.N. member countries should publicly oppose attendance by al-Bashir and make clear that if he does visit, they will not have any dealings with him nor take part in any events in which he is participating.
"If al-Bashir turns up at the U.N. General Assembly, it will be a brazen challenge to Security Council efforts to promote justice for crimes in Darfur," said Elise Keppler, an associate international justice program director at Human Rights Watch. "The last thing the U.N. needs is a visit by an ICC fugitive."
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann in Washington and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.