SA seeks legal advice on indicting al-Bashir

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pretoria -The South African government is seeking legal advice on how to respond to the international arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, George Nene, on Wednesday said government would decide if there was any conflict of interest between a recent AU resolution that was passed and its International Criminal Court (ICC) commitments.

"When the experts are finished they will advise government and government will pronounce whether the outcome is conflicting or not," explained Ambassador Nene, who was giving feedback on the recent international summits President Jacob Zuma had participated in.

The President has over the last weeks attended the Africa Union in Libya, the G8 in L'Aquila, Italy and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

South Africa is currently engaged with a resolution taken at the African Union Summit to denounce the ICC's decision to indict al-Bashir.

African leaders said they would refuse to extradite him if he travelled to other countries on the continent, which is in contradiction to the Rome Statute of the ICC.

"[The AU] decides that in view of the fact that a request of the African Union [to defer al Bashir's indictment] has never been acted upon, the AU member states shall not co-operate persuant to the provisions of Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the ICC relating to immunities for the arrest and surrender of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir to the ICC," the AU leaders said in their resolution.

President al Bashir has been indicted by the ICC for charges of crimes against humanity, among others.

SA is a signatory to the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court (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 al- Bashir and this requires signatory states to execute the warrant should he land on their soil.

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

The ICC had also not discussed the AU's call for the UN Security Council to suspend the indictment of President al-Bashir for a year, as it was entitled to do, to give time for the AU's own efforts to resolve the issue.

Government believes that peace efforts should be put forward and given a chance before prosecuting President al-Bashir. There is a concern that arresting him will create a power vacuum in Sudan's Khartoum that would hinder the country's peace process.

Botswana, which is an AU member, formally rejected the AU's resolution and reaffirmed its "treaty obligations to fully co-operate with the ICC in the arrest and transfer of the President of Sudan to the ICC."

The United Nations says up to 300 000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum in February 2003.

On other matters, Ambassador Nene said government had welcomed the commitment by the G8 to the international negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the recognition that the increase in global average temperature must be kept well below 2 Degrees Celsius.

"We are however disappointed that it was not possible for members of the G8 to agree to credible midterm targets of at least 40 percent emissions reduction below 1990 levels, to underpin the proposed long term goal," expressed Ambassador Nene.

He said government was also disappointed about the lack of commitment on finance and technology to support and enable developing country action.

"For South Africa, this comes as a political package. To be meaningful, a long term global goal must have a base year of 1990, and it must be underpinned by ambitious and legally binding mid-term targets for developed countries in line with science."

In addition, he said, it should be based on an equitable burden-sharing paradigm that reflects historical responsibility, and there must be a commitment to providing finance and technology to support and enable developing country action.

The South African delegation discussed the strengthening of relations between South Africa and the US, efforts to resolve conflict and advance development on the African continent and nuclear non-proliferation during the summit.

The discussions were among a number of talks attended by President Zuma during the summit, including a meeting of the G5 developing countries, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

At this meeting, agreements were reached on a number of matters relating to the economic crisis, food security, climate change and relations between countries of the north and south.