NewsSouthern AfricaAl-Bashir's escape from justice divides South Africans


Posted on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 14:50

Al-Bashir's escape from justice divides South Africans

By Crystal Oderson in Cape Town

South Africans are divided about the recent furore over their government's defiance of a court order that called for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir.

This comes as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to face tough questions in parliament from opposition parties about the government's apparent flouting of a court order calling for al Bashir's arrest on an International Criminal Court warrant.

Whatever we think of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir's visit here, it did not defy international justice — there is no such animal

The Sudanese president was in South Africa for the African Union summit and left the country as a full bench of the North Gauteng court ruled that he should be arrested.

Commentators and human rights activists have weighed in on the debate, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying "by refusing to submit to the jurisdiction of the court, some of the most powerful nations in the world have created an environment in which no world leaders feel the need to be held to account – least of all those who stand accused by the court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as Sudanese President Omar al Bashir does".

The Sudanese leader flew back to Sudan on Monday, before the end of an African leaders' meeting, despite an earlier ruling blocking him from leaving.

The Southern African Litigation Centre wanted the Sudanese leader arrested in terms of two warrants issued by the ICC on allegations of war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

Al Bashir is wanted on five counts of crimes against humanity.

The UN estimates that 300,000 people died in clashes, but Sudan puts the figure at 10,000.

African leaders have been critical of the ICC, claiming it only targeted leaders from the continent.

Tutu argued that allowing Bashir in the country spoke volumes about South Africa's moral fabric, as it had on three occasions denied entry to the Dalai Lama.

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in a statement said "if the world is to become a fairer, more compassionate, tolerant and peaceful place" it needed institutions like the ICC "to hold those who abuse power to account".

"These powerful nations have created the rationale for the South African government to allow al Bashir into the country despite the international warrant of arrest hanging over his head, and then allow him to travel home despite a South African High Court order to the contrary," the statement said.

However, commentator Steven Friedman in his column for Business Day said the issue of international justice is not that clear cut.

"Whatever we think of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir's visit here, it did not defy international justice — there is no such animal," he wrote.

Friedman said NGOs and commentators' claims that the government flouted international justice norms by allowing Bashir to enter and leave the country were unjustified.

"But there are no international norms of justice: the world does not agree on what is a crime and who should be prosecuted for it."

Political commentator, Nic Boraine said that he was not "surprised" – the government was between the proverbial rock and a hard place".

"But our legal system is damaged and this will negatively (and appropriately, in our view) impact investor sentiment," he said.

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