July 30, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir will be arrested if he sets foot in South Africa, a foreign ministry official in Pretoria said today.
- Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir (AFP)
Al-Bashir is charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Sudan’s Western region of Darfur.
The arrest warrant places an obligation on all countries including 30 African states that ratified the Rome Statute, which is the founding text of the court.
However, this month the African Union (AU) issued a resolution instructing its members not to cooperate with the ICC in executing the warrant.
The AU said that the resolution was adopted by consensus though later some countries including Botswana, Chad and Uganda said they are committed to the Rome Statute.
South African officials said they backed the resolution but that it had to be ratified by the parliament before it is effective. However, last week officials there said that they are waiting for the opinion of its legal experts before making a final position on the issue after NGO’s in the country questioned the legality of the AU resolution.
The South African Foreign ministry director-general Ayande Ntsaluba said that his government does not agree with the issuing of the warrant, but “we have certain international obligations”
“Not only that, our Parliament passed a law” enforcing those obligations, Ntsaluba said. “I cannot foresee the government acting outside the framework of the law. We would not renege on our international legal obligations.”
Following the AU resolution, Sudan said that South African position on the ICC warrant has changed since last May when Bashir was warned that he would be arrested if he tried to attend President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration.
“Maybe at one point, the new South African government expressed some negative views ... As South Africa was part of the decision at Sirte, it implies that this means he would be able to travel there” the Sudanese foreign ministry spokesperson Ali Al-Sadiq said.
However, the South African official stressed that Bashir cannot be safe travelling there.
“It [the law] is extremely explicit about what would happen” Ntsaluba said.
“If today President Al-Bashir landed in terms of the provision [of the Rome Statute] he would have to be arrested”.
He added that he had chosen his words carefully because he did not want to sensationalize an issue that was abstract.
“I don’t want to create sensationalism out of an imaginary situation,” said Ntsaluba
The South African official said that the AU will continue to press the UN Security Council (UNSC) for deferring Bashir’s indictment within the confines of international commitments and South Africa’s own constitutional mandate.
The AU has said that their decision on halting cooperation with the ICC is spurred by the UNSC ignoring their request for the suspension.
The new position by South Africa comes as more than 130 civil society and human rights groups across Africa issued a statement today calling on African governments that are signatories to reaffirm their commitment and obligation to the ICC.
“The AU’s decision that states should not cooperate with the ICC threatens to block justice for victims of the worst crimes committed on the continent,” said James Gondi of the Eastern Africa International Criminal Justice Initiative in Nairobi.
“We urge our governments to reaffirm their commitment to fighting impunity by supporting and cooperating with the ICC,” said Oby Nwankwo of Nigeria’s Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre.
The AU decision is contrary to its own constitutive act, which rejects impunity, the group statement said. It also noted that the AU decision was inconsistent with the obligations under the ICC statute that all states parties cooperate with the ICC, including in the arrest and surrender of criminal suspects.
“The ICC remains a crucial court of last resort for Africa when national courts are unable or unwilling to bring justice for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes,” said Anton du Plessis of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.
Some African figures have accused the ICC of targeting the continent while ignoring right abuses elsewhere.
Three of the four cases handled by the ICC came at the request of the respective states including Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The Darfur case was referred to the ICC by the UNSC under a Chapter VII resolution since Sudan is not a state party to the Rome Statue.