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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

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