24 July 2015
The former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called out Wits University vice-chancellor Adam Habib for his comments about Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment of him.
Addressing the annual Public Interest Law Gathering at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg this week‚ Judge Navi Pillay said it was regrettable that Habib “unfairly berated” the Southern Africa Litigation Centre‚ Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth and other activists for being the “advance guard for colonial subjugation”.
In an opinion piece published in the Sunday Times last month‚ Habib wrote that these activists have failed to consider‚ in their call for al-Bashir’s arrest‚ that “rules do not apply equally to all”.
“If you are a leader in the US‚ or of its allies‚ or one of the other great powers‚ you need not be concerned about acting outside the rule of law‚” Habib wrote.
Pillay set out to dispel “myths and misconceptions” surrounding the International Criminal Court that have surfaced in the wake of the South African government’s recent non-compliance with an order to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir has been indicted by the ICC for alleged human rights abuses.
Pillay said there was concern that human rights accountability was selective because former US president George Bush and former UK prime minister Tony Blair have not been held accountable by the ICC for alleged human rights abuses during the Iraq war.
“However‚ it is definitely not a defence to argue that just because other suspects are not charged no one else should be; or more pertinently‚ because the ICC did not indict Bush and Blair‚ al-Bashir should not be subject to prosecution and South Africa should not co-operate in his arrest‚” said Pillay.
“No one is above the rule of law and even a head of state or government must be held accountable.”
She would not express an opinion on the al-Bashir matter because it was still before the courts but said it was not true that the ICC was targeting African countries and amounted to the West imposing colonial justice on African countries.
She praised the role the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the media played in creating awareness of the disregard for the law over the ruling made by the court.
Pillay also encouraged that laws should be put into practice‚ saying that South Africans are not realising their civil‚ political‚ economic‚ social and cultural rights despite advances made.
“South Africa has largely incorporated its international obligations into its national legal framework but increased monitoring and accountability mechanisms are needed for implementation”‚ she said.
“Numerous reports under various human rights instruments to which South Africa is a party are long overdue.”
Pillay told the audience that it was easy to criticise from the sidelines and charged them with the responsibility to assist with capacity and strategies and to pressurise the government to implement laws that are in line with international standards.
“We also need to assist civil society to know and demand their rights.”
The Public Interest Law Gathering is held annually at Wits University in Johannesburg bring together public interest legal practitioners and organisations‚ law students‚ paralegals‚ social movement leaders and legal academics to share and develop knowledge. – TMG Courts and Law