Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on Friday made a surprise appearance at the Uhuru Park celebrations, defying International Criminal Court arrest warrants against him.
The Sudanese leader is subject to two arrest warrants issued by the ICC over atrocities committed in Darfur in Sudan, but the Kenyan government said that it would not arrest him.
The first warrant against President al-Bashir was issued in March 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The second was issued in July 2010 on charges of genocide.
The intended prosecution of Sudan’s head of state by the ICC has been hailed as a transformative event in the history of the Darfur genocide as well as that of the court.
President al-Bashir arrived at Uhuru Park on Friday at exactly 9.16am, escorted by Tourism minister Najib Balala. But his arrival did not go down well with a section of the dignitaries already seated at the historical grounds.
Shortly after his arrival, US ambassador Michael Rannerberger was seen in animated conversation with Sudan ambassador in Nairobi Majok Guandong before walking back to his seat.
Mr al-Bashir’s presence at the celebrations was a closely guarded secret within government quarters until the Sudanese state news agency SUNA reported at the last minute that the president would travel to Nairobi.
When he addressed the Press on the heads of state who were expected at the celebrations on Wednesday, public service head Francis Muthaura did not mention the Sudanese leader.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs media advisory released on August 26 also did not list him. Only four presidents — Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete (who did not attend), Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Union of Comoros Ahmed Abdallah Sambi — were named.
However, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula told Nation that Kenya had no intentions of arresting Mr al-Bashir.
“He is here in response to an invitation to all our neighbours to attend this historic moment for Kenya,” said Mr Wetang’ula.
“He is a state guest. You do not harm or embarrass your guest. That is not African,” the minister added.
Mr Wetang’ula also expressed the government’s appreciation to all the “distinguished guests” who attended Friday’s celebrations.
He spoke as local and international rights groups called for Mr al-Bashir’s arrest. Global Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent a press release urging Kenya to arrest President al-Bashir.
“Kenya should bar Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from entering Kenya or arrest him for trial at the International Criminal Court if he enters Kenyan territory.
“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 Programme at HRW.
“Even worse, hosting al-Bashir would throw into question Kenya’s commitment to cooperate with the ICC in its Kenyan investigation.”
The International Centre for Transitional Justice-Kenya and the International Centre for Conflict and Policy also expressed dismay at the presence of the Sudanese leader.
The AU has asked its members notto cooperate with The Hague.