(CNN) — Malawi said it won’t host an African Union summit next month because the organization wants Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese leader accused of war crimes in Darfur, to attend.
Activists hailed the small and economically struggling southern African nation’s stance, announced by Malawian Vice-President Khumbo Kachali on state radio Friday.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide, but he has eluded arrest.
Malawi is one of many countries that ratified the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, and those nations are obliged to carry out the court’s orders, including its arrest warrants.
“While we have obligations to abide by decisions of the AU, we are also under obligation to other international agreements including the Rome Statutes,” Kachali said.
Kachali said the summit appears to be headed to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, also the AU headquarters. Sudan asked the AU to move the meeting there after Malawi said al-Bashir would not be welcome.
Undule Mwakasungula, director of the Malawi Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, is quoted in a Human Rights Watch news release Friday that “Malawi has done right by Darfur victims today.”
“Malawian President Joyce Banda took a strong stance in support of justice despite tough pressure from the African Union,” he said
The AU, the organization of countries across the African continent, has said before that its members shouldn’t cooperate with al-Bashir’s arrest.
Al-Bashir made trips abroad for meetings despite the ICC warrants against him crimes in the Darfur region, where rebels have fought government forces and allied militiamen such as the Janjaweed since 2003.
Malawi welcomed al-Bashir last year for a regional trade meeting when the country was led by President Bingu wa Mutharika.
The Human Rights Watch said Chad, Kenya and Djibouti have permitted him on their territory. But other countries have canceled visits or have said that the wanted president is unwelcome.
“Malawi joins an increasing number of countries that have declined to welcome al-Bashir,” said Alan Wallis, international justice lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Center, quoted by Human Rights Watch. “More states should follow Malawi’s example.”
Banda became president in April after Mutharika died. After she took power, she said Malawi would host the summit but stressed that al-Bashir wouldn’t be welcomed because of the arrest warrant. the Human Rights Watch said.
Banda has said that Malawi would lose all-important donor support if it invited al-Bashir to the country.
“Civil society groups across the African continent have repeatedly urged governments to arrest — not host — al-Bashir,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “African activists have called for their governments to stand with victims, not with suspected war criminals.”