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Civil society, rights lawyers urge Nigeria to arrest Sudanese leader wanted for Darfur crimes

Civil rights activists and human rights lawyers Monday demanded that Nigeria arrest Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir and deliver him to the International Criminal Court to stand trial for crimes in Darfur.

President Goodluck Jonathan was urged "to support the demand by the international community for justice for the victims of genocide and war crimes," by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project.

Human rights lawyers are going to court to argue for an order to force the arrest, said Chino Obiagwu of Nigeria's Legal Defense and Assistance Project.

Human Rights Watch was contacting diplomats to add to the pressure. They are urging Nigeria's international partners "to signal that Nigeria should show leadership and not host ICC fugitive Bashir," said Elise Keppler of the New York-based organization's International Justice Program.

Nigeria is a member of the International Criminal Court and "has international legal obligations to ensure that this country does not become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of crimes under international law like al-Bashir," said Adetokunbo Mumuni, executive director of the rights and accountability project.

A failure to arrest al-Bashir could have "huge legal ramifications" and lead to sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, he warned, though Chad and Djibouti have welcomed al-Bashir in the past year without suffering any consequences.

Human Rights Watch said Nigeria's stand is "a stark contrast" to that taken by most African countries.

South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, and Central Africa Republic "have specifically made clear Bashir will be arrested on their territory, seen to it that other Sudanese officials visit instead of Bashir, relocated conferences or otherwise avoided his visits," said Obiagwu, who also heads the Nigerian Coalition on the International Criminal Court.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted the Sudanese leader in 2009 and 2010 for crimes including extermination, forcible transfer of population, torture and rape. He was the first sitting African head of state to be indicted by the court.

Al-Bashir arrived in Nigeria on Sunday to a red carpet welcome with full military honors. He is here to attend a health summit of the African Union, which has told its 53 members not to cooperate with the ICC. Some Africans argue that the European-based court is racist in its targeting of Africans.

Nigeria may cite that as an excuse for allowing al-Bashir's visit. No Nigerian officials could immediately be reached for comment. The president and all senior Cabinet ministers arrived home Sunday from a weeklong trip to China.

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Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria