UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Sudan has cancelled its president's appearance at the annual United Nations meeting of world leaders this week, a U.N. spokesman said Thursday. Omar al-Bashir would have been the first head of state to address the General Assembly while facing international war crimes and genocide charges.
The United States had made it clear it did not want al-Bashir to show up in New York, and human rights groups had warned they would seek legal action against him if he arrived.
Sudan's decision came as a landmark conviction was upheld Thursday for former Liberian president Charles Taylor, the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, made a pointed comment on Twitter: "Historic Charles Taylor judgment today: War crimes and crimes against humanity will not go unpunished. cc #OmarAlBashir."
Al-Bashir faces two International Criminal Court indictments for crimes linked to the conflict in the western Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003.
He had been scheduled to speak Thursday at the U.N., but Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said in an email that Sudan had cancelled the appearance.
But Sudan's official news agency, SUNA, cited the country's foreign affairs ministry as saying that news reports of the cancellation were false. The ministry said al-Bashir's visa application was still at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, and it called on the U.S. to approve the visa, the SUNA report said.
Calls and emails to the Sudanese mission to the U.N. and its first secretary, Mustafa Elshareef, were not immediately returned.
The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment. Power had said "such a trip would be deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate."
The status of al-Bashir's U.S. visa application was not clear. Under a U.S. treaty with the United Nations dating to 1947, Washington is obligated to issue the visa as the world body's host country. The United States has never banned a visiting head of state who wants to speak to the United Nations.
Sudan's Foreign Ministry had said the United States is "not qualified ... to offer sermons and advice" on international law and human rights and demanded that al-Bashir's visa application be swiftly approved.
If al-Bashir had arrived in New York, a Human Rights Watch expert had warned that various civil rights and human rights groups could seek to charge him with torture or genocide under U.S. domestic law. Human Rights lawyers have over the past 20 years uses the Alien Tort Act to file civil suits by Americans or foreigners against foreign nationals who come to the United States after committing human rights abuses abroad.
"We're not stopping until those who have suffered at the hands of Bashir's regime see Bashir end up where he belongs: at the International Criminal Court standing trial for his crimes," Tom Andrews, president of the activist group United to End Genocide, said in a statement Thursday that cheered the cancellation.
The global Coalition for the International Criminal Court said in a statement, "Al-Bashir should be standing in front of ICC judges in The Hague, not circulating among world leaders at the UN." The comment was attributed to William Pace, convenor of the coalition.
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Washington and Edith Lederer and Maria Sanminiatelli at the United Nations contributed.