Will the Central African Republic Arrest Omar Al Bashir Tomorrow? UPDATE: Trip Cancelled!

Sudan’s indicted president may visit the Central African Republic tomorrow.   According to the Sudan Tribune, which cites the pro-government al-Rayaam as the original source, Omar al-Bashir is slated to attend CAR’s Golden Jubilee Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday.

Should Bashir touch ground in CAR, it would be the third member state of the International Criminal Court that Bashir has visited since his indictment for genocide was handed down last year. (He has previously visited Chad and Kenya.)

Whether Bashir is able to pull this off will be an interesting test for the Central African Republic.  CAR is one of four countries to have pro-actively invited the ICC to investigate war crimes committed in its territory.  That invitation lead to the indictment and subsequent arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Congolese military leader who’s militia is alleged to have committed crimes against humanity (notably, mass rape) in CAR in 2002.  Bemba’s trial began in earnest in The Hague last week.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Bashir’s potential visit to CAR also poses a test to Belgium.  CAR is one of only five countries in which a newly created UN Peace Building Commission is active. The Peace building Commission (and it’s attendent Peace BuildingFund) were created in 2005 to support development initiatives in post-conflict countries.  As it happens, Belgium’s ambassador to the United Nations Jan Grauls of  serves as Chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Configuration for the Central African Republic.   This means that he has some power over how donor countries approach CAR.

Belgium is a longstanding supporter both of the ICC and of the ideal of universal justice for war crimes.  (And as it happens, Bemba was arrested in Brussels by Belgian police, then transferred to the Hague.) So will Belgium use its privileged position to press CAR to deny President Bashir entry or arrest him on arrival?

I put the question to Belgium’s Mission to the United Nations, which declined to comment.  I suppose that by tomorrow we will know if CAR will become the third country to abrogate its responsibilities to the International Criminal Court–and whether or not donor countries like Belgium are willing to let that kind of behavior stand.*

UPDATE:  Reuters reports that amid diplomatic pressure–mainly from the French–CAR rescinded the invitation.

There was no official explanation for Bashir’s absence from the event in its neighbour. But an aide to Central African Republic President Francois Bozize said it followed a long conversation late on Tuesday between Bozize and French Cooperation Minister Henri de Raincourt, who was present.

“I think Bashir’s absence is a result of the conversation between the French minister and the head of state,” the aide said. “Not only France finds this invitation very embarrassing but it would cause us big problems if Bashir came.”

*UPDATE II: For the record:  A spokesperson from the Belgian Mission to the United Nations just phoned to assure me that this was a matter of great importance to the Ambassador.