Rights groups slam Bashir's 'shameful' Nigeria visit

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir reviews a guard of honour as he arrives at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on July 14, 2013 to take part in an African Union summit about HIV, TB and malaria. PHOTO | AFP 

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir landed in Nigeria's capital on Sunday to attend a continental health summit as rights groups slammed the "shameful" decision to host a leader charged with war crimes.

But Nigeria's presidency on Monday defended welcoming Sudan President Bashir, saying it cannot interfere in AU affairs.

Mr Bashir arrived in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday for the summit on HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The summit is due to take place on Monday and Tuesday.

Rights activists in Nigeria say they plan to go to court on Monday in an effort to force Mr Bashir's arrest. President Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, landed in Abuja at 5pm (1600GMT) ahead of an African Union summit on infectious diseases.

He was received by Nigeria's minister for Police Affairs Caleb Olubolade.

"Nigeria has the shameful distinction of being the first West African country to welcome (the) ICC fugitive Sudanese president," said Elise Keppler, of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch.

The warrants

President Bashir has been indicted by the ICC on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

Nigeria is a member of the ICC and has a legal obligation to arrest any suspect wanted by the court who is found within the country.

The government "has completely breached its obligations under international law," Chino Obiagwu, chair of the Nigeria Coalition for the ICC, told AFP.

The Sudanese leader has previously visited ICC member states, including Chad, Djibouti and Kenya, but countries like South Africa and Botswana have ensured he stay away.

Some AU members and officials have criticised the President Bashir indictments, and the body has passed a resolution calling on members not to cooperate with the warrants.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the AU resolution to ignore the warrants has "no bearing on Nigeria's obligations as an ICC member".

Hosting President Bashir, is an "affront to victims" of the Darfur conflict, Ms Keppler said.

"He belongs in custody," she added.

Nigerian officials have been unavailable to comment on the visit.

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