- elections - Omar al-Bashir - Sudan
Still wanted by ICC for war crimes, al-Bashir starts new term
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the only sitting head of state indicted for war crimes, was sworn in on Thursday for a new term after a controversial victory in the country's first multi-party elections in 24 years.
REUTERS - Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the only sitting head of state wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was sworn in on Thursday after his re-election in polls marred by boycotts.
Bashir, who rejects charges of ordering mass murder, rape and torture in war-torn western Darfur, will now preside over a January referendum on secession for Sudan’s semi-autonomous south, which many analysts believe will result in independence for the oil-producing region.
Wearing a flowing white robe and white headdress, Bashir welcomed heads of at least five African states attending the ceremony, including Mauritania, Chad and Djibouti, but the swearing-in put European diplomats in a quandary.
The EU supports efforts by the ICC to bring Bashir to justice but is also keen to maintain dialogue to ensure the referendum is conducted peacefully.
The United Nations said it would send its top two diplomats in the country, despite calls from human rights advocates.
“Diplomats attending al-Bashir’s inaugural would be making a mockery of their governments’ support for international justice,” said Elise Keppler, International Justice Program senior counsel at U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
The ceremony at Sudan’s parliament followed Bashir’s election one month ago with 68 percent of the vote. The poll was marred by opposition boycotts and allegations of widespread fraud.
Bashir’s party and allies also won around 95 percent of parliamentary seats in the north, giving them more than the required two-thirds majority to make changes to the constitution.
The former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) won most of the southern seats, around 20 percent of the total parliament. South Sudan President and SPLM leader Salva Kiir is in talks to form a government with Bashir.
Bashir was last sworn in after a 2005 north-south peace deal which ended Africa’s longest civil war, a conflict that claimed some 2 million lives and destabilised much of the region.
That inauguration was attended by senior foreign figures, including then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and ministers from Western nations.
On Thursday, key nations like Britain and the United States were not expected to send their heads of missions, who are both out of the country. Embassies said they would follow protocol and send diplomatic representation to the ceremony.
ICC judges told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that Sudan was protecting ICC suspects rather than arresting them, a move aimed at increasing pressure on Khartoum.
As well as Bashir, former state minister of humanitarian affairs Ahmed Haroun and a militia leader known as Ali Kushayb face ICC arrest warrants.
Bashir is the longest serving Sudanese leader since taking power in an Islamic-military bloodless coup in 1989. But he has overseen peace deals in the south and east as well as a short-lived accord in Darfur.
The southern vote on independence is set for Jan. 9, 2011 and is a key focus of the international community, which wants to avoid a return to bloodshed and is keen for the former foes to agree on issues like the north-south border, along which much of Sudan’s oil wealth lies.