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ICC judges reject South Africa’s argument against arresting Sudanese president


June 13, 2015 (WASHINGTON/KHARTOUM) – The judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an urgent decision on Saturday by which it asserted that South Africa is under the obligation to arrest and surrender Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir who has arrived on Saturday in Pretoria to attend the 25th ordinary session of the African Union (AU).

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International Criminal Court Judges at the Hague (Reuters)

Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Darfur conflict. As a result his overseas travel has been restricted to friendly nations ever since.

South Africa joined a list of ICC members that have chosen to ignore the arrest warrant and receive the Sudanese leader after days of intense speculation over his attendance.

A filing published on the ICC website disclosed that a South African delegation met with officials from The Hague court this week to excuse the nation from the obligation to apprehend Bashir.

“On 12 June 2015, upon request of the Republic of South Africa, the Presiding Judge, in the presence of representatives of the Registrar and the Office of the Prosecutor, met with the Ambassador of South Africa to the Netherlands and an accompanying legal advisor, for consultations under article 97 of the Statute. The Ambassador of South Africa to the Netherlands read out a note verbale making the argument that there was lack of clarity in the law and that the Republic of South Africa was subject to competing obligations”.

Article 97 of the Rome Statute deals with situations where a state receives a request from the ICC and the former initiates “consultation” with the court to explain why it cannot execute it for reasons that include that the “request in its current form would require the requested State to breach a pre-existing treaty obligation undertaken with respect to another State”.

Some sources have said that South Africa signed an agreement with AU bestowing immunity on Bashir from arrest when he attends the summit. There was no independent confirmation.

The judge dismissed South Africa’s legal challenge and said that its representatives “were explained that there is no ambiguity in the law and that the Republic of South Africa is under the obligation to arrest and surrender to the Court Omar Al Bashir”.

The chamber recalled a similar excuse made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for receiving Bashir in which it affirmed that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) “under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, had lifted the immunities of Omar Al Bashir by virtue of Resolution 1593(2005), the Republic of the Democratic Republic of Congo could not invoke any other decision, including that of the African Union, providing for any obligation to the contrary”.

“The delegation from the Republic of South Africa was reminded of this during the meeting of 12 June 2015. In particular, the Presiding Judge repeatedly made clear, in unequivocal terms, that the Republic of South Africa is under the obligation to immediately arrest and surrender Omar Al Bashir as soon as on its territory and that the consultation between the Court and the Republic of South Africa under article 97 (or any other further discussion on the point at any later stage) do not trigger any suspension or stay of this standing obligation. As there exists no issue which remains unclear or has not already been explicitly discussed and settled by the Court, the consultations under article 97 of the Statute between the Court and the Republic of South Africa have therefore ended”.

South Africa’s move to receive Bashir contrasted sharply with its public position in the past that it will arrest Bashir should he visit in compliance with the ICC arrest warrant. This was despite AU resolutions instructing its members not to cooperate with the ICC in apprehending Bashir.

In August 2009 the South African Department of Foreign Affairs issued a detailed statement outlining its position on the AU resolution regarding Bashir from a legal and political perspective.

“An international arrest warrant for President El Bashir has been received and endorsed by a magistrate. This means that if President El Bashir arrives on South African territory, he will be liable for arrest” the statement said.

Bashir has not visited South Africa since the issuance of the arrest warrant but in May 2009 he asserted in an interview with the BBC ‘Hardtalk’ program that he could visit if he wanted to.

His plane, in an open challenge to the ICC, landed in Johannesburg at 6:30 pm (Sudan’s local time).

According to Sudan’s official news agency SUNA, Bashir’s accompanying delegation included the foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, presidential minister, Salah Wanasi, minister of welfare and social security, Mashai’r al-Dawalab and the president’s office director, Taha Osman al-Hussein.

The Sudanese leader has managed to travel to several African ICC members since 2009 but in some of these instances this seem to have backfired.

A trip by Bashir in 2011 to Kenya, another ICC member, without being arrested prompted a civil society group to file a case in court which ended up with the issuance of a provisional arrest warrant for him by a Kenyan judge.

Malawi, which received Bashir once, chose not to host an AU summit afterwards because it could not guarantee Bashir’s risk-free attendance after US pressure.

In 2013, Bashir, traveled to Nigeria for a conference but left abruptly after less than 24 hours without addressing the main event on behalf of Sudan or attending a formal dinner or taking part in the group photo.

In Johannesburg, Caroline James from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) told Sudan Tribune earlier today that they were waiting to confirm the arrival of Bashir before submitting an urgent request with a High Court judge to issue a local arrest warrant for Bashir.

Asked whether she believed that she believed that South Africa has the political will to arrest Bashir, she noted the country’s position in the past on the issue and the fact that the Rome Statute is incorporated in the country’s constitution.

James said that the judge has been notified about the impending filing but it is not clear how quick he would decide on SALC request.

The ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was quoted by Associated Press as saying that "We’ve been in contact and we are basically reminding them of their obligation under the Rome Statute to have him arrested if he gets to South Africa”.

If al-Bashir is not arrested, the matter will be reported to the court’s assembly of states and the United Nations Security Council, which first referred the case of Sudan’s Darfur region to the International Criminal Court in 2005, the Gambian-born prosecutor said.

Rights groups echoed the prosecutors call for al-Bashir’s arrest.

"Allowing President al-Bashir into South Africa without arresting him would be a major stain on South Africa’s reputation on promoting justice for grave crimes," said Elise Keppler, acting international justice director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement.

South African officials have remained mute on the issue but the AU Commission spokesman Jacob Enoh-Eben noted that the AU has asked the ICC to stop proceedings against sitting presidents.

"It’s like arresting yourself," said Enoh-Eben.

The African Union will not compel any member states to arrest a leader on behalf of the court, he added.

The UNSC has refused to suspend proceedings against Bashir per Article 16 of the Rome Statute despite repeated requests by the AU.


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  • 14 June 2015 06:29, by dinkdong

    Arrest Bashir or not, we South Sudanese don’t give a crap anymore. Those dang Darfour were used during the 21st North, South civil war to kill Southerners. To hell with them. After all, every president in the world need to answer to the ICC if his or her country is a member. No single leader is innocent. They are corrupted and they are guilty of one or more crimes.

    repondre message

    • 14 June 2015 07:27, by Ayuiu Makuac Lam

      South Africa must follow the international law to arrest Bashir in any possible ways to hand over him to Hague base court.
      Bashir, is destabilizing the whole Sudan including the South Sudan supporting rebellion led by Riek Machar, Bashir, hosting criminal personal in his country. let him be arrest.

      repondre message

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