12 June 2015
Johannesburg – Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir continued to keep everyone guessing on Friday about whether he would pitch up in South Africa for the African Union summit – and risk arrest by South African authorities under an International Criminal Court (ICC ) indictment.
The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) which had said on Thursday it is was preparing to seek an urgent court order to the National Prosecuting Authority to arrest Bashir, said on Friday it was holding off because of uncertainty about whether Bashir was actually coming.
“We are holding off on proceeding until he actually arrives in country,” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, SALC Executive Director.
“We are hoping the SA authorities take their obligations seriously and so we will not for the moment interject in their planning unless there is a need to do so.”
However, she noted that her organisation was on standby to go to court over the weekend if Bashir arrived for the high level component of the summit which was due to start on Sunday.
Elise Keppler, Acting Director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch, said the situation seemed to be developing fast as Sudan’s Information Ministry had confirmed Bashir would be coming to South Africa.
A journalist in South Africa also received confirmation of a request to interview Bashir and was told that he would be at the summit this weekend.
However, diplomats have said that Sudan officials have told them Bashir would not come as he was due to receive Eritrean President Isias Afewerki on a state visit this weekend.
Some analysts believe that Bashir is toying with the human rights organisations as he has done before, by keeping them and everyone else guessing about his plans until the last moment.
“Having al-Bashir in South Africa without arrest would be a major stain on South Africa’s international standing by sending the signal it is not committed to justice for grave crimes,” Keppler said.
“Welcoming an ICC fugitive sought on charges of genocide is totally contrary to South Africa’s domestic and international legal obligations as an ICC member to cooperate in the arrest of al-Bashir.”
She noted that the AU’s Legal Counsel was tweeting instructions to AU members reminding them of the AU decision not to arrest ICC fugitives.
“This is a direct call on AU members to contradict their international treaty obligations as members of the ICC,” Keppler said.
Twice before, before President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in 2009 and before the World Cup in 2010, the South African government warned that if Bashir arrived for these events, it would be obliged to arrest him under its ICC obligations.
But an AU summit is different because it is not a South African event. And also because the AU has an official policy of not cooperating with the ICC.
Some AU officials have warned that if South Africa prevented Bashir coming to South Africa for the summit, that would damage its standing with the AU – particularly in the light of the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa, much of which was directed against other Africans.
That might explain why this time the South African government has remained very silent publicly on what it would do if Bashir arrived, though officials have reportedly been telling human rights advocates in private either that they have let Bashir know he should not come or that they would be obliged to arrest him if he does.
Most analysts believe Bashir will not come, to avoid causing a major embarrassment to South Africa, whether it arrests him or not.