Serbia's presidency on Thursday defended its decision to decorate Sudan's president and genocide suspect Omar al-Bashir, saying he was honoured for refusing to recognise Kosovo.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic has come under fire for awarding the medal of the Republic of Serbia to Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes and genocide.
Nikolic's office confirmed to AFP in an email that the president had on Serbia's Statehood Day in February "decorated the presidents of all African countries that have not recognised Kosovo".
Kosovo, a former southern province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008 in a move recognised by more than 100 countries but strongly disputed by Serbia and its ally Russia.
The Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a global network of more than 2,500 civil society groups, wrote to Nikolic on Monday "to express dismay at the honour extended to an ICC fugitive".
The letter, signed by the coalition's convener William Pace, pointed out that the ICC had indicted Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur in western Sudan. The conflict there killed some 300,000 people and forced about two million to flee their homes.
"The award lends credibility to President al-Bashir as it praises his behaviour as leader while, at the same, this behaviour is precisely under consideration at the ICC.
"It conveys a message of indifference and disregard for victims of alleged crimes and their families," the letter said, calling on Nikolic to reconsider the award.
In an interview with Danas newspaper on Thursday, Nikolic's adviser Ivan Mrkic said the decision to decorate Bashir "could not have been avoided".
"We cannot skip Sudan because some people cannot stand Bashir," he said.
Some 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Darfur and 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the United Nations says.
The Sudanese president denies the ICC charges against him.