SA is obliged to arrest Al-Bashir, says Ntsaluba

Pretoria - The South African Government has said it will be obliged to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir if he sets foot in the country.

"If today, President Al-Bashir landed in terms of the provision [of the Rome Statute], he would have to be arrested," said the Director General for International Relations and Cooperation Ayanda Ntsaluba on Thursday.

He said he did not foresee the government acting outside the framework of the international laws which South Africa had ratified. "We would not renege on our international legal obligations."

The Director General told the press briefing that he had chosen his words carefully because he did not want to sensationalise an issue that was abstract. "I don't want to create sensationalism out of an imaginary situation."

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant of arrest for President Al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sudan's Western region of Darfur.

The arrest warrant places an obligation on all countries, including the 30 African states that have ratified the Rome Statute, to arrest him if he travels from his country into another state

The Rome Statue is the founding text of the ICC.

Earlier this month the African Union (AU) issued a resolution instructing its members not to cooperate with the ICC in executing the warrant. At the time, the AU said that the resolution had been adopted by consensus, although later some countries including Botswana, Chad and Uganda said they were committed to the Rome Statute.

South Africa's position in this regard is that while it respects the ICC's efforts to end impunity for war crimes in Darfur, the ICC has not made enough effort to engage the AU to coordinate efforts to end the fighting in that country.

Dr Ntsaluba explained that while South Africa does not agree with the issuing of the warrant of arrest, there is a legal framework in place that guides government.

"We are signatories of the Rome Statute under which the ICC was established. Because the treaty has been ratified by Parliament, for South Africa to not observe its obligations is arguably unconstitutional and against the law.

"The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for President al- Bashir and this requires signatory states to execute the warrant should he land on their soil.

"We are a member of the ICC, we have got certain obligations, not only that, our Parliament passed a law and that law is extremely explicit about what would happen if a situation like that happens," explained Dr Ntsaluba.

He emphasised that he did not foresee the government acting outside the framework of the law.

Dr Ntsaluba said the AU would continue to press the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to defer President Al-Bashir's indictment within the confines of international commitments and South Africa's own constitutional mandate.

South Africa's position comes as more than 130 civil society and human rights groups across Africa issued a statement today calling on African governments that are signatories to reaffirm their commitment and obligation to the ICC.