Who is Obliged to Arrest Bashir?

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Last week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese President, Omar Al Bashir. The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC directed the ICC Registry to transmit a request for arrest and surrender of Bashir to (i) all States Parties to the ICC Statute and (ii) all United Nations Security Council members that are not States Parties to the Statute. Does this mean that these States are under an obligation to arrest Bashir were him to travel to their territory? Are these States even permitted by international law to arrest Bashir? It remains to be seen whether Bashir would be bold enough to leave Sudan. For example would he attend the Heads of States meeting of the African Union or perhaps wish to attend the annual session of United Nations General Assembly in New York. Were Bashir to travel abroad, States, particularly non-parties to the ICC Statute (like Ethiopia and the United States) would be faced with these tricky questions

 The answer to these questions depend on the extent to which international law accords immunity to Heads of States and on the legal nature of Security Council referrals of situations to the ICC. Many have noted the significance of an international tribunal issuing an arrest warrant for a serving Head of State. Of course, this is not the first time that this has happened. The ICTY issued a warrant for Milosevic while he was head of the State of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Charles Taylor while he was President of Liberia. Christine Chung notes in her post below that there has been no hand-wringing by other States about Bashir’s immunity and suggest that this is a matter of interest only to academics. States may not have commented on this issue but this is only because States have not as yet been faced with the question. States will only be faced with the question if Bashir travels abroad and they are called upon to arrest him. In that scenario, States will have to consider not only this particular case but also the precedents that they wish to set. They will also have to consider what obligations they may have under the ICC Statute, under other treaties (including the UN Charter) and under customary international law.

While, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber implicitly answered one part of the immunity question in its decision, it has not disposed of the entire question. The Pre-Trial Chamber in para 41considered that

the current position of Omar Al Bashir as Head of a state which is not a party  to the Statute, has no effect on the Court’s jurisdiction over the present case.

The PTC reached this decision based on four considerations the most important of which are that: (i) Art. 27 of the ICC provides that the Statute applies equally to all persons without distinction based on official capacity and that immunities which may attach to official capacity under national or international law shall not bar the Court from exercising jurisdiction; and (ii) the Security Council by referring the Darfur situation to the Court has accepted that the investigation and prosecution shall take place in accordance with the framework set out in the Statute.

Implied in the Court’s statement is the view, that the Security Council has implicitly adopted Art. 27 and thus implicitly sanctioned the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court over a serving head of State who would otherwise be immune from jurisdiction. I do not disagree with this. Any other view would leave Article 27 without effect.

However, the Court does not have power of arrests. Unless Bashir surrenders voluntarily, it will have to depend on a State to arrest Bashir. The question that then arises is whether Bashir is immune from arrest by national authorities. Under international law, Bashir as a Head of State would ordinarily be entitled to immmunity from the exercise of criminal jurisdition, including immunity from arrest, by foreign States. As the ICJ stated in the Arrest Warrant case, this is an immunity that does not cease even where the foreign Head of State is accused of international crimes . Does Bashir’s immunity before national authorities change as a result of an ICC request for an arrest warrant? The question may be analysed in relation to 3 categories of States: (i) Sudan; (ii) ICC parties and (iii) non-parties to the ICC Statute. I am currently working a piece that analyses these questions so I only propose to raise the key questions here.

One State that is under a clear obligation to arrest Bashir is Sudan. In Security Council Res. 1593  by which the Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC, the Council imposed an obligation on the Government of Sudan to “cooperate fully” with the ICC. However, Sudan has not been meeting its obligations and  is unlikely to do so in the near future.

Parties to the ICC Statute  have an obligation to cooperate with the Court and to comply with requests for arrest and surrender. But they also have an obligation to accord immunity to foreign heads of States. So how are these conflicting obligations to be reconciled? The situation is made more complicated  by Art. 98 of the ICC Statute. Despite the proclamation of the irrelevance of immunity and official capacity in Art. 27 of the ICC Statute, Art. 98 of the Statute points the other way. Para. 1 of that provision states that the

The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.

I am amazed that the PTC did not even mention this provision, despite the fact that the PTC proceeded to make a request for arrest and surrender in circumstances where immunity is in issue. A reader of the decision would think that the PTC was unaware that Art. 98 appears to apply in precisely this sort of case. Referring to Art 27 does not dispose of the issues. Iin justifying its exercise of jurisdiction over a head of State of a non-party, the PTC stated in (para. 45) that the Security Council has accepted that investigations and prosecutions from the Darfur situation

will take place in accordance with the statutory framework provided for in the Statute, the Elements of Crimes and the Rules as a whole.

Art. 27 is part of the statutory framework. But so is Art. 98! The PTC ought to have dealt with the applicability of Art. 98 and how it relates to Art. 27 before proceeding to issue the request for arrest and surrender to States parties and Security Council Members. The PTC is under an obligation to satisfy itself that it would not be requiring those States to act inconsistently with their international obligations relating to immunity.

Elsewhere, I have dealt with the tension between Art. 27 and 98 and argued that the only way to give meaningful effect to both provisions is to interpret Art. 98 as requiring the ICC and national authorities to respect immunities accruing to non-parties (immunities which the ICC Statute is unable to remove). On the other hand,  Art. 27 is to be taken as removing immunities accruing to ICC parties,  even with respect to action taken by national authorities, where those authorities are acting in response to a request by the Court.

So the key question is whether Sudan is to be considered analogous to a party in the case of the Security Council referral. Remember that though Security Council Res. 1593  imposes an obligation on Sudan to cooperate with the Court, it does not explicitly make the Statute binding on it nor does it explicitly deal with the question of immunity. So, what one needs (in order to permit arrest of Bashir by parties) is an argument that says that Sudan is to be considered as bound by the Statute and by the removal of immunity in Art. 27.

What about non-parties to the ICC Statute. Are they obliged to arrest Bashir? SC Res. 1593 urges them to cooperate with the Court but it also explicitly recognises that non-parties have no obligation under the Statute. So there is clearly no obligation to act either under the Statute or under the SC Res. But are non-parties permitted to arrest Bashir? These State owe obligations to Sudan to respect the immunity of Sudan’s Head of State from the exercise of foreign criminal jurisdiction. Even if one were to conclude that the ICC Statute is made binding on Sudan by virtue of Res. 1593 and that Art. 27 removes that immunity where States are acting in support of the ICC, how does that removal relate to the obligations of non-parties. Some would immediately refer to Art. 103 of the Charter as providing the answer and requiring that one give preference to the removal of immunity by the SC resolution. But Art. 103 refers to “obligations under the Charter” as prevailing over obligations under other international agreements. There are two problems here. The first (and perhaps more minor) is that the obligation to respect the immunity of Bashir as a Head of State is a customary law obligation. The second is that in this case, non-parties have no obligations under the Charter to arrest Bashir. This is not like the position with respect to the ad hoc tribunals were the Security Council created an explicit obligation to cooperate with the tribunals. At most, there is a permission to act (if one construes Art. 27 as removing immunities before national authorities and if one takes the view that the whole of the Statute is binding on Sudan). So the question is how does one deal with a “conflict” between a right under the Charter and other international law obligations.

Answers on a post card please. Or preferably using the comments feature.

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Douglas Guilfoyle says

March 17, 2009

I would agree with your general analysis.

On the final point, I do not see that a Security Council exhortation ("urges States ...") to co-operate can create a permission to act contrary to an established rule (the inviolability of serving heads of State). A non-binding exhortation cannot trump a binding command.

Even had the SC required co-operation with the Court's statutory powers (thus imposing an Art 103 obligation), as you rightly point out this would not resolve the Art 98 issue.

The black letter conclusion has to be, no matter how undesirable, that Bashir has immunity unless it is waived by Sudan or excluded by the SC.

Dapo Akande says

March 18, 2009


Many thanks for your comments. I also agree that the Security Council's urging of all States to cooperate with the ICC cannot trump the immunity Bashir is entitled to. However, if Sudan is to be considered as bound by the Statute then Art. 27 would remove that immunity. Many ICC parties take the view that despite Art. 98, Art. 27 not only removes immunity before the Court but also from arrest when the ICC has requested arrest. I agree that this is the correct interpretation to be given to Art. 27 but only with regard to immunity accruing to a party (and not immunity accruing to a non-party). Sudan is a non-party but I think one can argue that it is bound by the Statute in this case by virtue of SC Res. 1593. When the SC referred the case to the Court it was subjecting Sudan to the decisions of the Court. And, the Court is bound by its Statute to exercise jurisdiction and operate in accordance with its Statute. So subjecting Sudan to the Court's jurisdiction should be taken as subjecting it to the Court's Statute. That being the case, one may argue that Sudan is bound by the Statute (and by Art. 27) and in a position analogous to that of a party.

Aditya Swarup says

March 22, 2009

Quite an interesting point of view.
But can it not be stated that precedents in Pinochet's case and Scilingo may be sufficient to say that any state may have an erga omnes obligation to the effect of arresting bashir ?
As regards immunity, if ratification of the ROme Statute would mean to implement in the national legal system, could this not be made as an exception to the granting of diplomatic immunity too ?


Passer By says

March 24, 2009


No, not according to the ICJ. The Court addressed cases like Pinochet and Qaddafi in its Arrest Warrant Judgment and "has been unable to deduce from this practice that there exists under customary international law any form of exception to the rule according immunity from criminal jurisdiction". See paras. 56-8 for the discussion.

Mike says

March 24, 2009

Very interesting point of view. Let's assume Sudan is considered a non-state party for purposes of Article 98(1). Article 98(1) makes clear that the arrest immunity would be not apply if ICC "can first obtain cooperation of that third state for the waiver of the immunity." Because Resolution 1593 requires Sudan to fully cooperate with the ICC, it could be argued that SC requires Sudan (third state) to also waive arrest immunity. Since the Court does not have its own enforcement powers, it is reasonable to assume that waiver of personal immunity is meaningless if arrest immunity vis-a-vis other states still applies.

Dapo Akande says

March 24, 2009


Sudan is under an obligation to arrest and surrender Bashir. I agree this includes an obligation to waive any immunity that might stand in the way of his arrest. However, I don't think that helps with regard to Art. 98. That provision requires an actual waiver of immunity by the State. So I think the only way of arguing that Art. 98 does not apply is to say that an arresting state would not be acting "inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to state or diplomatic immunity."

The way to make this argument is that those obligations include the obligations under the Statute and include Art. 27. So where Art. 27 removes immunity there is none under international law. But to make that argument one needs to argue that Sudan is in a position similar to that of a party to the Statute. One also needs to argue that ARt. 27 removes immunity not just before the Court but also with respec to national authorities acting in support of the Court.

Gal says

November 11, 2009

I didn't get one thing,
If we take a look at Art. 38 of the ICJ, we see the legal norms of international law and their hirarchy.

Specific norms are stronger than general norms, as in IHL Vs. HRL, And here there's a specific norm in the statute (same as in a convention), and a general norm in customary law. I was taught that a convention over powers a customary norm.

Following that logic, the statute over powers the customary obligation to grant Bashir immunity, and so member states are allowed and must arrest him and coperate with the ICC.

In addition, the Rome statute allows non state members to turn to the court and ask for it's jursdiction in a specific case. A non party doing so while Bashir is in their territory might be considered as a party state for the matter of his arrest.

I hope I got it right :-)

Gal Sion,
Haifa university Israel.

Rodah Ogoma says

March 14, 2012

Akande, this is an interesting discussion.

I am particularly interested in you take on which is the superior obligation, a customary obligation under international law or a treaty obligation such as the Rome Statute?

As regards the Al Bashir case, I share the view that Res 1593 impliedly waives the immunity enjoyed by the head of state of Sudan(as envisioned in article 98) and effectively brings the matter within the scope of article 27. The result therefore is that pursuant to operation of article 27, Sudan and in particular the arrest warrants against Al Bashir, should be treated as though Sudan is a state party for all intents and purposes.

Gal says

March 15, 2012

This is an interesting question, but Sudan is not a member party to the Rome Statute and I am not sure the UNSC can force them to "waive" that right. If a state ratifies the convention, it makes sense that specific norms in the convention will dominate, and the ratification can be considered a "waiver" when these norms conflicts with CIL. But the CIL applies on Sudan's actions, and Sudan never ratified the convention nor did any thing to waive the immunity.