Chad’s red-carpet welcome for Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir cements a new-found detente between the former foes with an act of brazen defiance towards Bashir’s international indictment for genocide and war crimes.
Although a new blow to the credibility of the International Criminal Court, Chad’s failure to arrest the visiting Bashir is unlikely to bring censure among many African states who know when security interests win the day over human rights concerns.
“It would be counter-productive to go for an arrest … The relative stability of the border could be jeopardised,” Eurasia analyst Rolake Akinola said of the uneasy calm since a February ceasefire in a years-long proxy war fought through rebel groups.
Bashir’s three-day trip to Chad for a regional summit this week is the first time he has risked setting foot in a state that is a full member of the Hague-based ICC since the court demanded his arrest for war crimes and genocide charges in the western Darfur region, reports Reuters.
Chadian President Idriss Deby welcomed Bashir off the plane with full honours on Wednesday and his government declared that he would return home “safe and sound”, disputing any obligation it had to arrest an incumbent head of state.
In a well-timed show of good neighbourliness, Sudan expelled two prominent Chadian rebel leaders, Mahamat Nouri and Timan Erdimi, on the eve of Bashir’s arrival.
The move followed a pact this year to stop supporting each other’s insurgents who have caused havoc since Darfur rebels — many belonging to Deby’s Zaghawa tribe — took up arms in 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region.
Deby was among the leaders who watched Bashir sworn in as re-elected president in May and is now banking on the relative peace helping him and his allies to victories in parliamentary and presidential elections this year and next.
“Both parties would like to remain on good terms and it is in their interests to do so,” said Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Horn of Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.
That argument resonates beyond their borders too.
There are misgivings about the timing of the arrest warrants for Bashir, with the African Union asking the ICC to postpone any action against him for fear of heightening tensions in Sudan at a critical juncture in its peace efforts.
Those who back the January 2011 vote on southern Sudan’s secession as a chance to resolve the country’s north-south conflict are equally phlegmatic about isolating Bashir.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, whose country is part of the troika supporting Sudan’s 2005 north-south peace deal, told Reuters last month the arrest warrants should not “cripple” international efforts to support the peace process.
ICG’s Hogendoorn said Deby could nonetheless face criticism from supporters of the ICC such as South Africa which warned Bashir he would face arrest if he turned up for the recent World Cup. Bashir did not show up for the soccer tournament.
While Uganda reversed its original decision not to invite Bashir to an AU summit in Kampala this week, the office of the ICC prosecutor said Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni had likewise warned that he would be arrested if he came.
Yet Eurasia’s Akinola said solidarity among African leaders — four of whom occupied a list of the world’s top ten “bad dude dictators” drawn up by U.S. Foreign Policy magazine this month — is seen limiting the overall pressure.
“There is the general sense of African camaraderie,” said Akinola. “It would violate any sense that there was a gentleman’s agreement — that you don’t shop each other.”