Sudan’s Bashir in Kenya for constitution signing

Reuters Kenya chose not to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who faces charges of genocide, when he arrived on Friday to attend a signing ceremony for Kenya’s new constitution.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) accuses Bashir of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region where the United Nations estimates 300,000 have died in a humanitarian crisis sparked by a brutal counter- insurgency campaign. Bashir denies the charges.

Bashir was escorted into Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, where the ceremony is taking place, by Tourism Minister Najib Balala, a Muslim from the coastal city of Mombasa.

Last month the African Union criticised the ICC’s warrant for Bashir and called for its suspension. Kenya has ratified the Rome Statute which established the ICC in 2002 and requires states to cooperate with the court. The ICC has no police force and relies on member states to enforce its arrest warrants.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is also investigating possible crimes against humanity committed during Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008. He expects to issue arrest warrants before the end of this year.

Bashir made his first trip to a full ICC member state last month when he visited neighbouring Chad, which also did not arrest him.

Rights groups said Keynan President Mwai Kibaki’s hosting of Bashir raised questions about the country’s commitment to cooperate with the ICC on the Kenyan investigations.

“Kenya will forever tarnish the celebration of its long-awaited constitution if it welcomes an international fugitive to the festivities,” said Elise Keppler, senior counsel in the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based rights groups urged Kenya to arrest Bashir and hand him over the ICC.

“Whether Kenya allows a suspected war criminal into Kenya is a test of the government’s commitment to a new chapter in ensuring justice for atrocities,” said Keppler.

“The Kenyan government should stand with victims, not those accused of horrible crimes, by barring al-Bashir from Kenya, or arresting him.”

Kenya hosted peace talks in a separate conflict between Sudan’s north and south and signed a peace deal in 2005 which ended that war.

Bashir’s travel has been restricted mostly to nearby African and Middle Eastern allies since the ICC warrant. Last year he was forced to cancel a trip to Turkey at the last minute after Ankara came under intense European pressure not to host him.

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