War crimes charges: Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir rapidly departs from South Africa

African Union comes up short on its commitment to human rights and the rule of law as it protects presidents above citizens

 

President Omar al-Bashir’s rapid, discreet departure from South Africa yesterday has spared the latter serious embarrassment. The government’s apparent willingness to defy its courts in refusing to arrest Sudan’s leader on war crimes charges looked set to provoke not only an international incident but a serious domestic clash between the executive and the judiciary calling into question the republic’s vaunted commitment to the rule of law. The attempted arrest had been instigated by a human rights group, the Southern African Litigation Centre.

Pretoria’s promise of immunity from the writ of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to all the 50 attendees at an African Union (AU) summit had been a brazen violation of its treaty obligation to assist the court which six years ago issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest. He faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict which saw as many as 300,000 people killed and two million displaced .

The international statute that established the ICC removed the principle that serving heads of state or governments should be granted immunity under international law. Bashir, however, has waged a successful campaign against that provision and the court’s credibility inside the AU, accusing it of having a western anti-Africa agenda, and the AU, currently led by dictator Robert Mugabe, contributed to thwarting the attempted indictment of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta last year.

What price the AU’s ostensible commitment to a new Africa in which human rights and the rule of law are the order of the day, when one of the group’s most significant international rights initiatives should be about protecting the rights not of citizens but of presidents? Dictators, at that. That South Africa should assist in undermining the court does it no credit either. And so, while Bashir continues to wander around Africa with total impunity, Sudan’s very African victims will have to wait yet longer for justice from a court to which 30 African nations signed up in 1998.

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