udanese President Omar al-Bashir’s arrival in South Africa to attend the African Union (AU) Summit this weekend has caused a conundrum for South African leaders and officials because local police will be obliged to arrest him.
Bashir is considered a fugitive of justice from the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he is wanted for seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. As a signatory to the Rome Statute, South Africa is obliged to arrest him when he sets foot in the country.
South African government leaders and officials went to ground this week when asked what steps would be taken when Al-Bashir arrives here. When he was asked at the AU Summit yesterday, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe laughed nervously and said he would have to consult International Relations Minister Maite NkoanaMashabane before he could respond.
International relations department deputy director-general of public diplomacy Clayson Monyela did not respond to a phone message regarding questions on Al-Bashir, although he did respond to other messages.
In 2009 – the same year Al-Bashir was indicted – President Jacob Zuma told CNN he would have to be arrested if he set foot in South Africa. At the time, there was speculation over whether he would attend President Zuma’s inauguration.
President Zuma spoke out despite AU member states resolving not to cooperate with the ICC’s arrest warrant against Al-Bashir. AU member states have become increasingly opposed to the ICC because of attempts to prosecute Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, for Kenya’s 2007 election violence.
Zuma was quoted at the time as saying that the AU resolution did not mean AlBashir should not be arrested, only that the action against him should be deferred.
Al-Bashir, who was recently re-elected to another five-year term in Sudan, was scheduled to speak at the African Peer Review Mechanism’s (APRM) meeting of heads of state on the sidelines of the AU Summit yesterday.
A representative read out a statement instead, in which Sudan committed itself to the APRM. Scores of journalists attended the meeting to see if Al-Bashir would show up, but City Press understands an official plane from Sudan was only scheduled to land after the meeting had finished.
After unofficial confirmations that Al-Bashir was headed for South Africa, Sudanese state news agency Suna yesterday reported that he had left Khartoum for the AU Summit.
Al-Bashir has previously travelled to Addis Ababa for AU summits, but Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and is under no obligation to arrest him. He has also travelled to Kenya, which is a signatory, without being arrested. Kenya belatedly issued an arrest warrant after the ICC reported it to the UN Security Council.
In December last year, the ICC decided to suspend investigations into alleged war crimes in Darfur to shift resources to other urgent cases. Al-Bashir at the time hailed it as a victory for him and told Suna the ICC was one of the “tools aimed to humiliate and subjugate Sudan”.
Civil rights groups and the DA this week called on the South African government to arrest Al-Bashir on his arrival, with some even threatening to make a citizen’s arrest.
However, any attempt by South Africa to arrest Al-Bashir will be frowned upon by AU member states who feel the ICC was wrongfully prosecuting only African leaders.
If South Africa does not arrest Al-Bashir, its commitment to uphold international justice will be questioned by the international community that supports the ICC’s efforts.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir