Sudan's Bashir cancels trip after Uganda mulls arrest warrant

After Uganda briefly threatens to carry out war crimes warrant against Bashir, a new poll shows broad public support in Africa for such a move.

By , Correspondent

A new poll shows public support in Muslim and African nations for the war crimes indictment handed down against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court.

And though the leaders of those countries have so far stonewalled efforts to arrest Bashir – the Monitor reported in March that Arab and African opposition to the indictment largely stemmed from leaders' desire for self-preservation in a region plagued by human rights violations – there are some signs that regional leaders are falling out of step with Bashir.

This week he reportedly dropped plans to visit Uganda after that country's foreign minister announced that Uganda would honor the ICC's arrest warrant if Bashir entered the country. The Ugandan government later retracted that claim, with an official saying the country wanted to avoid "embarrassment and inconvenience," but the earlier hint was enough to keep Bashir away.

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The back and forth on Bashir in Uganda would appear to support the claim made by Enough, the antigenocide project of the Center for American Progress, that African Union (AU) support for Bashir is growing shaky. The AU, to which Uganda belongs, has officially promised to disregard the warrant. But Laura Heaton writes on Enough's blog that there is more behind-the-scenes opposition to the AU's decision than is readily apparent.

"The language of the AU’s statement was hotly contested and the final version did not represent consensus; there are certainly more countries voicing support behind-the-scenes for ICC’s work to hold Bashir accountable than one might surmise from news reports," Ms. Heaton wrote.

Matthew Duss, a research associate at the Center for American Progress, says the developments in Uganda could mean that AU solidarity with Bashir is fading. "I think it clearly does indicate that there's a potential for it to fall apart ... for cracks to begin," he says.

The survey, conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, found much stronger support for the indictment among African Union populations than in the Arab League. The poll found a majority in favor of the indictment in Kenya, Nigeria, and Turkey, a plurality approving in Pakistan and opposition in Iraq, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Duss said the divide between African and Arab nations could be due to the nature of the conflict in Darfur, where the ethnically Arab government has been accused of violence against non-Arab civilians, and the experiences of the Palestinians.

"I think in these countries, especially in the Palestinian territories, they've more often seen international power and international institutions used against them," he says. "What they see as Western-based systnmes of jsutcie has not served them particularly well and that could be an explanation" for their opposition to the ICC.

Nevertheless the African Union continues to join the Arab League in considering the arrest warrant to be illegitimate. Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC, is accused of orchestrating attacks on civilians in Darfur and the ICC's prosecutor has recently called for the charge of genocide to be added. Bashir until now flaunted his support in the Arab and African world, travelling freely and being warmly received by his neighbors.

The poll, conducted between April 25 and June 6, also found overwhelming support for UN intervention in Sudanese refugee camps to alleviate suffering caused by the expulsion of aid organizations. Every nation surveyed except Pakistan supported an intervention, even if escorted by military forces and contrary to the will of the Sudanese government.

Bashir kicked out 13 international humanitarian aid groups in March in response to the ICC warrant. The Monitor reported in April that that the situation in the world's largest humanitarian effort was growing ever more grim in the absence of some aid providers.

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