Rights group Amnesty International urged Malaysia on Tuesday to withdraw an invitation to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes, or arrest him if he turns up for an economic forum. At least one high-ranking government official agreed he should be uninvited.
Al-Bashir is among several African leaders scheduled to attend the three-day forum starting Sunday in Malaysia's administrative capital Putrajaya, the Malaysian government has said.
The International Criminal Court has issued warrants of arrest for al-Bashir for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region. The Sudanese leader remains in power, rejecting the charges and the Netherlands-based court, which has no police force and relies on member states to execute its orders and warrants.
Malaysia is not an ICC member, but in March it announced its intention to join.
London-based Amnesty said Malaysia's invitation to al-Bashir "flies in the face of its decision to join the ICC."
"Malaysia should not turn itself into a port of call for fugitives from international justice. The Malaysian government should bar Bashir from its territory and arrest him if he turns up," Amnesty said in a statement.
Nazri Abdul Aziz, Malaysia's Cabinet minister responsible for parliamentary affairs, reportedly said he would recommend to his colleagues that the invitation be scrapped.
"I am taking this matter seriously," the Malaysian Insider news website quoted Nazri as saying. "As such, I strongly recommend the government withdraw the invitation."
Nazri did not immediately answer calls to his cell phone. He is one of malaysia's most outspoken government officials, but his views on human rights and other legal controversies have not always drawn support from other Cabinet members in the past.
Darfur was plunged into turmoil in 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, which they accuse of discrimination.
Al-Bashir's regime is accused of retaliating by unleashing Arab militias on civilians _ a charge the government denies. The U.N. estimates 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced in the conflict.