October 18, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – The South African government has quietly asked Khartoum to send someone other than president Omer Hassan al-Bashir for the Forum Of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) scheduled for next December in Johannesburg , according to a news report.
- Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir greets his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma (L) at the Palace in Khartoum February 1, 2015 (REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
Bashir’s attendance at the African Union (AU) in South Africa last June created a diplomatic and legal mess for the South African government which not only violated the International Criminal Court (ICC) obligations, but also an explicit order by the High Court to prevent the Sudanese leader from departing pending a decision on whether to extradite him to the Hague.
The Sudanese leader fled the country hours before the High Court ordered his arrest and the South African government told the judges that he sneaked out without their knowledge.
The ICC issued two arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 and 2010 charging him with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
Despite losing appeal case at the High Court, South Africa’s International Relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and other members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) subcommittee on international relations insisted last week that Bashir is free to attend FOCAC if he wished without fearing arrest.
The ANC also announced that it has voted to begin the process of leaving the ICC and unsigning the Rome Statute which is the founding charter of the Hague-based court. It further disclosed that it will push for an African en masse withdrawal from the tribunal in the upcoming summit next January.
However the Pretoria-based Sunday Times newspaper reported today that the ANC and government insiders disclosed that there have been behind-the-scenes talks with Khartoum over Sudan’s level of attendance at the December summit.
A senior diplomatic official told the newspaper that Bashir would not attend the December event, to avoid controversy.
"There is an agreement that he won’t come and the foreign minister will probably lead their delegation. He also doesn’t want to go through that again [the attempt to arrest him in June]," said the government official.
A senior ANC national executive committee member said on Friday there was consensus in the government and the ANC that Bashir should not return to the country until ICC and government processes have been completed.
In a related issue, Ghana president John Mahama defended South Africa’s non-arrest of Bashir at the AU summit last June.
“You don’t go arresting [leaders] when they have come under the auspices of the African Union,” Mahama told ‘Conflict Zone’ on Germany-based DW TV.
The Ghanaian president said that despite perception of bias by the ICC, it remains an important institutions for Africa.
“The ICC is useful and several African leaders have appeared before them and I think that the ICC is still relevant and still prosecuting cases of human rights abuses. …The ICC serves a purpose and I guess that we must take the concerns of Africa on board, Africa feels targeted whether rightly or wrongly; it’s like African leaders are the only people arraigned before it and I think the African union, ICC and the UN must discuss it”.