Kenya tells Gen al-Bashir: ‘We will not arrest you’

From Collins Wanzala in Nairobi

Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula: "Judgement failed to consider the need to balance delicate international relations."

Kenya has no intention of arresting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir whose warrant of arrest was dramatically issued in a Nairobi High Court Monday. Speaking on a local radio station Monday evening, Kenya’s Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, Richard Momoima Onyonka said President Mwai Kibaki had written a letter to his Sudanese counterpart explaining that his Government had no intention of arresting him but it was through the new Constitution in Kenya which gives any citizen freedom to go to court and seek for justice. Onyonka said he hoped that the court decision will not derail the relationship between the two sister countries.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Nicolas Ombija on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of President Al Bashir if he dared set foot in Kenya again. The order was issued after the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Kenya chapter, applied for Gen al-Bashir’s arrest on the strength of a pending order for his detention by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Bashir is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity that he allegedly committed against civilians in the war torn area of Darfur.

Earlier in the day, Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula had told reporters that the Nairobi High Court Judge had made an error to pass the judgment ordering for the arrest of the embattled Sudanese leader. Speaking shortly before he accompanied President Kibaki to Burundi to attend the 13th ordinary summit of the East Africa heads of state, Wetangula said Kenya was considering going to the Kenyan court of appeal to appeal against the ruling passed against the Sudanese President. His words were seen as an attempt by the Kenyan government to downplay what had quickly turned into a diplomatic row.

Within hours of the court issuing the arrest warrant, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry summoned Kenya’s ambassador to Khartoum, Robert Mutua Ngesu and promptly gave him 72 hours to leave the country. At the same time, it recalled its own ambassador to Nairobi, Beder El Din Abdalla Mohammed. Mr Wetangula told journalists it would be difficult to obey the judgment as it failed to consider the need to balance delicate international relations and did not respect the relations involving Kenya, Sudan and the ICC.

However the Kenyan Minister for Justice, Mr Mutula Kilonzo welcomed the judgement and said that the Kenyan Government has no choice but to obey the high court ruling and arrest Bashir if he attempts to come to the country for the forthcoming IGAD meeting in Nairobi. President Bashir last came to Kenya on August 27, 2010 during the promulgation of the country`s new constitution. Kenyan authorities in utter disregard of their obligations under international law and the laws of Kenya failed to enforce the warrants of arrest for him.

During that visit, there was a widespread outcry and condemnation against the Kenyan government with some civil rights activists who demonstrated against his coming to Kenya being rounded up by riot police but were shortly released from the Central Police Station before being taken to local courts where they were subsequently released due to lack of evidence to prove a crime.

Speaking to the BBC’s Focus On Africa Programme, Mr Wetangula said he expected Attorney General Githu Muigai to appeal against the ruling. Mr Bashir, he went on, enjoyed ‘sovereign immunity’ and that the African Union (AU) had decided that member states should ‘disregard’ the ICC’s arrest warrant, he said.  “So it’s not just about Kenya and Sudan and our diplomacy. It’s also about our duty as an African country,” Mr Wetangula said.

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