ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Angry that Nigeria is hosting a fugitive accused of genocide and war crimes, human rights lawyers Monday asked the Federal High Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir.
Nigerian civil rights activists sent an urgent request to the International Criminal Court to refer the Nigerian government to the U.N. Security Council for failing to detain al-Bashir and surrender him to the court in The Hague for trial, said the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project.
The project urged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan "to support the demand by the international community for justice for the victims of genocide and war crimes." Britain, Nigeria's former colonizer, issued a mild reprimand. Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds expressed "disappointment" and said Nigeria's action "undermines the work of the ICC and sends the victims a dismaying message that the accountability they are waiting for will be delayed further."
The court in The Hague indicted the Sudanese leader in 2009 and 2010 for crimes including extermination, forcible transfer of population, torture and rape. He was the first sitting African head of state to be indicted by the court.
On Sunday, Nigeria rolled out a red carpet and gave al-Bashir full military honors when he arrived in Abuja, the federal capital, to attend an African Union health summit that started Monday. Leaders from eight other African countries attended the summit, including Kenya, which has shunned al-Bashir.
Human Rights Watch was contacting diplomats to add to the pressure, urging them "to signal that Nigeria should show leadership and not host ICC fugitive Bashir," said Elise Keppler of the New York-based organization's International Justice Program.
South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, and Central Africa Republic "have specifically made clear Bashir will be arrested on their territory, seen to it that other Sudanese officials visit instead of Bashir, relocated conferences or otherwise avoided his visits," said human rights lawyer Chino Obiagwu, who also heads the Nigerian Coalition on the ICC.
He said the lawsuit filed Monday stresses the responsibility of Nigeria's judiciary "to implement legal obligations created by treaties undertaken by Nigeria." Adetokunbo Mumuni, executive director of the civil rights and accountability project, said a failure to arrest al-Bashir could have "huge legal ramifications" and lead to sanctions by the Security Council. But Chad and Djibouti have welcomed al-Bashir in the past year without suffering any consequences.
Nigeria is a member of the International Criminal Court and "has international legal obligations to ensure that this country does not become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of crimes under international law like al-Bashir," he said.
He added that Nigeria should not use the excuse that the African Union has told its 53 member states not to cooperate with the ICC. But that was exactly the reason given for receiving al-Bashir by Nigeria's presidential spokesman. Reuben Abati told The Associated Press that al-Bashir was not in Nigeria on a state visit. "I think the AU has a position on this: It is that the president of Sudan can attend events organized by the African Union anywhere in the continent," he said.
Some Africans argue that the European-based court is racist and targets Africans. All eight cases currently being investigated by the court are in Africa, but seven of them respond to requests from the governments where the crimes were committed or from the Security Council. The Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the court because of the severity of the crimes being committed in that western Sudanese province.
The sole case in which the court has taken the initiative is in Kenya, responding to widespread frustration that the government did nothing to prosecute politicians accused of instigating tribal killings and other violence following 2007 elections.
Nigerian officials have not responded to requests for comment. Some remember with distaste the last time Nigeria was forced to hand over an internationally wanted criminal, former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the warlord who began that country's devastating civil war in 1989.
In 2003, Taylor resigned under pressure and a promise from Nigeria's government to give him a safe haven. When democratically elected leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demanded his extradition in 2006, Nigeria came under huge international pressure and was forced to go back on its word and hand him over.
Taylor was in May sentenced to 50 years in prison by the international court, not for crimes committed in his own country but for his responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.