Johannesburg – Rule of law champions have reminded the South African government that it had an obligation to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir if he came to South Africa for next month’s African Union summit.
The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) has written an open letter to the ministers of justice and of international relations and co-operation, telling them that South Africa’s own law and its membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) would oblige it to apprehend Bashir.
The ICC has indicted Bashir and issued a warrant for his arrest for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against civilians in Sudan’s western area of Darfur.
SALC executive director Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh noted in the open letter that Bashir had been invited to the AU summit.
She said that when Bashir had been invited to President Jacob Zuma’s first inauguration in 2009, the then Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Ayanda Ntsaluba, had stated that if Bashir arrived in South Africa, “he would have to be arrested”.
“I write to affirm your previous position on this matter and aim to remind South Africa of its international criminal justice obligations in this respect,” Ramjathan-Keogh wrote.
She noted that the Constitutional Court had ruled that South Africa must uphold its international law obligations under the Rome Statute which governs the ICC. She also pointed out that South Africa had domesticated the Rome Statute’s provisions into South African law, the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 27 of 2002 (the ICC Act).
“In the preamble of the ICC Act, South Africa boldly commits itself to bringing persons who are suspected of committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, to justice pursuant to its commitment as a signatory to the Rome Statute of the ICC and in terms of its domestic law obligations,” she said.
“Specifically, were President al Bashir to be present on the territory of South Africa, and the International Criminal Court were to request his arrest and surrender, the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development must immediately on receipt of that request, forward the request and accompanying documents to a magistrate, who must endorse the warrant of arrest for execution in any part of the Republic.”
“Accordingly, the South African government is required to make it clear, as it has done before, that should President al Bashir accept the AU Summit invitation, the South African government will be duty bound to arrest him.
“It is our hope that the government of South Africa will act in accordance with the law and prevent the Republic of South Africa from becoming a temporary safe haven for those who have been indicted by the ICC.”