Monday, April 13, 2009

Al-Bashir in Sudan, Turk officials lobby DC, Azeri - California

This was first published on on March 6, 2009

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Sudan’s leader wanted over Darfur crimes

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan visits Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Jan. 2008. AP Photo

In a landmark ruling against a sitting head of state, the Hague-based International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, news agencies reported.

The March 4 warrant charged Mr. Bashir, who has been ruling Sudan for 20 years, with crimes against humanity, murder, and forcible displacement in Darfur. The court said that its investigators did not find enough grounds to charge Mr. Bashir with genocide, however.

In response, Sudan ejected foreign-aid groups and said it would defy the ruling. The warrant was also opposed by the African Union and the Arab League, as well as China and Russia.

The White House reacted cautiously to the ICC ruling, with a spokesperson for President Barack Obama saying that in general the United States believed that all those who committed atrocities in Darfur should be held accountable and that there should be an immediate end to violence.

United Nations officials estimate that several hundred thousand have died and some 2.7 million have been displaced during a six-year campaign against rebel groups in Sudan's Darfur province.

The warrant is a first against a ruling head of state by the court. Set up in 2002, the court can only prosecute crimes committed since its establishment and has, in addition to Darfur, investigated allegations of crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. Last January it launched its first-ever trial against a Congolese militia leader.

While the International Criminal Court has no power to enforce its warrants, wanted individuals could be detained in 108 states that have signed on to the court's Rome statute and have ratified it. While most European and Latin American countries and many African countries are members of the court, China, Russia and the United States are not. In the former Soviet space, only Georgia and Tajikistan have joined the court so far.

The ruling was welcomed by the Armenian National Committee of America. The ANCA has for years campaigned with groups like the Save Darfur Coalition for tougher U.S. action to stop the violence that the Bush administration described as genocide.

In recent weeks, as part of the campaign to win official U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, the ANCA has been highlighting the ties between Mr. Bashir and the Turkish government, in what it has dubbed an "axis of genocide."

Last year, Turkey decided not to accede to the court amid worries that some of its military commanders could be prosecuted over their tactics against Kurdish rebels, Zaman reported at the time.

Turkish officials resume Washington lobbying

As in years past, Turkish officials intensified efforts to lobby the U.S. Congress ahead of the anticipated introduction of a congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide and a presidential statement on April 24.

Speaking at an Armenian community event in Fresno, Calif., on March 1, Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) said that the introduction of the resolution was imminent, the Fresno Bee reported the same day. One of the resolution's main co-sponsors, Mr. Schiff said he also expected "an onslaught" by the Turkish government opposing the measure.

According to a Dear Colleague letter made available to the Armenian Reporter, a delegation led by the Turkish parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee chair Murat Mercan was hosted on the Capitol Hill on March 5. The letter was distributed by co-chairs of the Turkey Caucasus Rep. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.) and Ed Whitfield (R.-Ky.) and vice co-chairs Steve Cohen (D.-Tenn.) and Virginia Foxx (R.-N.C.).

Separately, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D.-Tex.) distributed a letter opposing congressional condemnation of the Armenian Genocide and pointing to reports of high-level meetings between Armenian and Turkish officials.

For his part, Rep. Bill Shuster (R.-Penn.) circulated a newspaper story that played up Turkey's importance for the anticipated U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Turkish officials were also expected discuss the anticipated resolutio with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was due to visit Ankara on March 7.

Azerbaijanis lobby in California

A group of Azerbaijani officials was back in the state with the largest Armenian-American population. Member of the Milli Majlis Asim Mollazade, accompanied by Azerbaijan's consul general in Los Angeles Elin Suleymanov, visited with members of California State Assembly, including Sam Blakeslee, Bob Blumenfield, Julia Brownley, Felipe Fuentes, Fiona Ma, and Lori Saldaña.

The visit, a second such tour in six months, was intended to play up Azerbaijan's importance, including its efforts to turn "'black gold' (oil) into 'human gold," Azerbaijani media reports said.

Ms. Brownley and Ms. Saldaña were among California officials who in September 2007 went to Azerbaijan, where they heard about the misdeeds of the "destructive" Armenian diaspora.

According to a February 24 Trend news report, Mr. Fuentes sent a letter to President Ilham Aliyev, expressing "condolences" to Azerbaijan over its losses in the Karabakh war. Mr. Suleymanov called the letter a "very important event since "Armenians provide false information about the [Karabakh] conflict."

Mr. Mollazade and other Azerbaijani officials were reportedly ordered to the United States as part of the Azerbaijani State Committee for Work with Diaspora "action plan." According to APA, the plan also involved pickets, presentations, and exhibits held in Washington, New York, California, and elsewhere to highlight Azerbaijani grievances against Armenians.

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