Why the U.S. Should Grant a Visa to Sudan’s Genocidal President
By: Llowell Williams
May 21, 2016
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is raising eyebrows after applying for a U.S. visa. Foreign leaders and officials from all over the globe go through this process, so what makes Bashir special? He’s an international war criminal.
Though many Americans might not be familiar with Bashir, his misdeeds, particularly in Sudan’s Darfur region, have been acknowledged worldwide, seeing an outcry from human rights activists in the U.S. in the early 2000s; actor George Clooney even helped shine a light on the situation in Darfur with his Not On Our Watch charity.
Omar al-Bashir, a military commander before becoming leader, seized power from Sudan’s democratically elected president, Sadiq al-Mahdi, amidst a protracted civil war in 1989. When Mahdi began seeking a diplomatic path to ending violence with rebels in the south, Bashir saw the move as dangerous display of weakness and decided it was time he took the reigns.
For many years following his successful military coup, President Bashir led a long and brutal campaign against Sudanese rebels. Although the southern region was finally allowed to exist independently as South Sudan after peace negotiations in 2005, the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region persists.
Estimates of the loss of life in Darfur since open conflict became the norm 13 years ago vary wildly. According to the United Nations, approximately 300,000 people have died, though Sudan’s government dubiously insists the number is closer to 10,000.
Furthermore, figures show that as many as 2.5 million Sudanese have been displaced, internally and externally, since fighting began. Last year violence forced 166,000 civilians to leave their homes.
Bashir has perpetuated a campaign of systematically looting and razing villages in Darfur. Civilians are deliberately targeted; hospitals are bombed and mass graves continue to be filled. Human rights monitors say Bashir’s forces have also engaged routinely in mass rapes. Arbitrary incarceration and torture have also become commonplace under his reign.
For this, the Hague-based International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President Bashir on counts of crimes against humanity and genocide in 2009 and 2010.
It should come as no shock, however, to learn that President Bashir and his government have roundly denied these charges. As such, he’s had no interest in complying with the ICC, and he’s not alone. Despite international outrage, President Bashir went to Uganda recently to attend the swearing in of President Yoweri Museveni for his sixth presidential term and left without incident.
Something similar happened last year in South Africa, when Bashir attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg. The ICC even went so far as to issue an emergency order to South Africa seeking Bashir’s arrest, but it was ignored.
It’s not likely Bashir will have his U.S. visa approved. With apparently no sense of irony, Sudanese minister Kamal Ismail argues that “if a country hosting UN institutions refuses to give visas to any other country’s delegation for attending UN activities, then the host country is violating is legal commitment.”
Ismail is entirely right. The U.S. absolutely should grant President Bashir his visa and encourage his visit this September.
Doing so would give the U.S. a special opportunity to fulfill not just one but two of its “legal commitments” — law enforcement agents should be waiting to greet Bashir as he sets foot on U.S. soil so they can escort him to jail. He should then be made to stand trial at the Hague for the multitude of atrocities committed under his rule.
What does the U.S. State Department have to lose?