Protesters would not be acting lawfully if they tried to effect a citizen’s arrest on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Joburg on Thursday, according to Lilian Chenwi, international law professor at Wits University.
Al Jama-ah leader Ganief Hendricks has said his party will hold a protest against Blair’s presence at the Discovery Invest leadership conference in Sandton later on Thursday because of his support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which caused the deaths of many Iraqi citizens.
He added that he hoped some of the protesters would try to effect a citizen’s arrest on Blair for committing crimes against humanity.
“It is hoped that one or more demonstrators will be able to make a citizen’s arrest… put Tony Blair in jail and extradite him to The Hague for trial,” Hendricks said.
Legal experts said SA’s ICC Act was the only law which might allow SA as a state to prosecute foreigners for crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide committed outside SA, even where no South Africans were involved.
But Chenwi said the act had no provision for a citizen to arrest a suspect. Only a state could decide to prosecute someone under the act and issue a warrant for their arrest.
She observed that this was partly because determining culpability under the act was a complex matter, which was why it was left to states to decide. It was a sovereign decision, she said.
Four years ago the Southern Africa Litigation Centre asked the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate alleged crimes against humanity under the ICC Act against top officials of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party who had been accused of torturing opposition officials.
The NPA sat on the case for almost four years and then decided not to prosecute.
Eventually two months ago a Pretoria High Court judge ordered the NPA to do the investigation, but the NPA said it would appeal against the judgment.
Last month, however, the NPA decided, after just two months, to launch an investigation under the same act against deposed Malagasy President Marc Ravalomanana for alleged complicity in the fatal shooting of several protesters in Madagascar in 2009 shortly before he was ousted in a coup.
Another legal expert said under SA’s criminal procedure law, a citizen could only arrest someone who committed a Schedule One crime in his or her presence. Schedule One encompasses the most serious crimes such as murder and rape.
But Chenwi stressed that this right did not apply to international crimes such as the one which Al-Jama-ah accuses Blair of committing.
Another legal expert said that if a citizen wrongfully arrested someone, that citizen would be liable for prosecution in turn for assault or abduction.
Roads in Sandton would be closed from 1pm until 5pm on Thursday for a protest at the Discovery Leadership Summit, Joburg metro police said, according to a Sapa report.
Motorists should avoid Alice Lane and 5th Street, which would be closed, said spokesman Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar.
“Protesters plan to gather at the Alice Lane intersections at around 2pm,” he said, adding that there would be a heavy police presence.