The Business Day
THE constitutional crisis caused by the government’s flouting of a court ruling ordering the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is to be taken up by opposition parties in Parliament.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, SA’s special envoy to South Sudan, is likely to be grilled about the circumstances of Mr Bashir’s illegal departure when he answers questions in the National Council of Provinces on Wednesday. President Jacob Zuma could also be questioned on the matter when he appears in the National Assembly tomorrow to answer MPs’ questions.
There has been widespread international condemnation of government’s flouting of the law, by Amnesty International, the International Centre for Transitional Justice and Human Rights Watch, among others.
Opposition party MPs are demanding that the government be held accountable for contravening a court order and violating an international statute that Parliament ratified.
Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen and Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said on Tuesday they would ask Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete for an urgent public debate.
Mr Steenhuisen said only Parliament could repudiate the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, as it had committed itself to both by way of a resolution.
If the government wanted to repudiate the statute, it would have to ask Parliament to do so. He believed the government had acted “recklessly” in allowing Mr Bashir to escape. He was sceptical that the government’s investigation into Mr Bashir’s departure would yield anything and was likely to be a repeat of the probe into the landing of the Gupta family at the Waterkloof air base. Some low-level official was likely to take the blame. Mr Mulder held the same view.
The High Court in Pretoria ruled on Sunday that Mr Bashir, who was attending a summit of the African Union, could not leave the country pending a final decision on an application by the Southern African Litigation Centre for his arrest. It ordered the state respondents, including the Department of Home Affairs, take steps to prevent Mr Bashir from leaving the country until a final order was handed down.
A full bench of the court ruled on Monday that he should be arrested, but he slipped out from Waterkloof Air Force Base.
The litigation centre is considering taking legal action against the government for contempt of court. The centre’s lawyer Caroline James said its action would depend on the affidavit the government has to submit within seven working days outlining the circumstances of Mr Bashir’s departure.
Acting Cabinet spokeswoman Phumla Williams said on Monday that the government would comply with the court order and would inquire into the circumstances of Mr Bashir’s departure. “We will, however, await written reasons of the judgment as indicated by the court,” she said.
Mr Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague — to which SA is a signatory — for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict.
More than 300,000 people were killed and about 2.5-million displaced.
The litigation centre’s executive director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, noted in an open letter to the departments of justice and international affairs and cooperation last month that SA had played an important leadership role in the development of the Rome Statute and thus the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
It was one of the few African states to have domesticated the Rome Statute’s provisions into law.
She also noted that the Constitutional Court had ruled decisively SA had to uphold its international law obligations.
Human Rights Watch international justice acting director Elise Keppler said by allowing the “shameful flight” of Mr Bashir the government had disregarded not only its international legal obligations but its own courts.
Amnesty International said the “shocking failure” to arrest Mr Bashir was a betrayal to hundreds of thousands of people killed in the Darfur conflict.