Government criticised by opposition in al-Bashir debate

Johannesburg - Government came under withering criticism on Tuesday from most opposition parties for disregarding a court order to keep and arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in South Africa while attending an African Union summit.

Beginning the debate in Parliament in Cape Town, Democratic Alliance MP Stevens Mokgalapa said the executive was duty bound by the Constitution and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to have not allowed al-Bashir to have left the country, and to arrest him.

"By not complying with this order the executive was quite simply in contempt of court. The question is why did the executive ignore this order?"

"The ANC government, led by President Jacob Zuma, has committed a crime by assisting a wanted man to evade the law."

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Deputy Minister Obed Bapela followed by stating the ruling party welcomed the debate.

He said the ANC was of the view that interests of peace peace needed to be balanced with the pursuit of international justice.

The deputy minister compared al-Bashir to former president FW de Klerk, where De Klerk was a vital player in South Africa's negotiated settlement. Al-Bashir himself was an important player in Sudan's negotiation towards a peace in Darfur, and his absence would have affected regional stability.

"President al-Bashir was invited to the AU by the AU. He was not visiting SA. He was not on a state visit here. He was attending a meeting that was constituted by an act of the AU."

"In the 70 years of the United Nations, the USA has never attempted to arrest a leader...because the law of immunity is the law that was agreed in 1961 that all countries agreed to... the day it happens in the UN [a head of state is arrested], it will be the end of the UN because leaders will be afraid to go there."

'Bush, Zuma, Gaddafi and Ramphosa must be arrested'

EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu said South Africa was in a constitutional crisis because the ANC had misunderstood continental inadequacies on how to handle international justice and peace.

"We do not agree with the selective prosecutions of the ICC for Africans since it looks like it only existed to prosecute Africans."

"Whoever thought it wise to take government to court to arrest a head of state in South Africa did not consider that it would lead to instability in that country, and undermine the South African state."

"The ICC should arrest George [W] Bush for the illegal war in Iraq. The ICC should arrest Tony Blair for the illegal war in Iraq. It should arrest President Zuma for colluding to the arrest of Muammar Gaddafi. It should also arrests [Deputy President] Cyril Ramaphosa for killing the miners at Marikana."

The EFF did not agree with the complete disregard of court orders by the ANC as it set a dangerous precedent going forward.

'Government does not care'

IFP MP Albert Mncwango said al-Bashir departure from South Africa spoke volumes about what the current government's thinking was around the Constitution, the rule of law, international law and international treaties.

"To put it quite simply, this government does not care."

He asked how government expected citizens to respect the decision of the judiciary when itself did not do the same. The government had in effect trounced on the Constitution.

The NFP's Maliyakhe Shelembe said it could not condone or "agree with the sentiments and scandalous conduct of the ANC government".

"We cannot pick and choose which obligations we will honour once we enter into an agreement."

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said South Africa needed an overarching foreign policy approach that united the nation and clearly articulated it's foreign policy position. If the ICC was to be a credible institution, it had to bind all nations equally. 

FF Plus leader Pieter Mulder said "Forget about FIFA. The al-Bashir crisis makes the FIFA crisis look like a picnic", while Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said when South Africa ratified the Rome Statute, we did so of our own accord. By giving al-Bashir assurances he would not be arrested, government had contravened international and local law.

'Did you think we'd arrest a head of state? Think again'

Small Business Minister Lindiwe Zulu said history would absolve the government, and if the ANC had taken an alternative route in the past, those involved in the apartheid regime sitting in Parliament would not be doing so.

"Speaker, it should be recalled that upon the issue of the warrant of arrest in 2009, the AU submitted a request for a deferral. The decision by the AU to make the request was formed by the peace process in the Sudan at the stage.""

With al-Bashir being isnturmental in that, him being indicted would have undermined that process. The request of the AU has never been acted upon.

"Can these members really think we are going to arrest a head of state? they must think again."

Themba Godi of the APC had a different take, asking "Why this hallabaloo when he [al-Bashir] came to SA? The court action taken by that reactionary institution is repulsive... As for the sponsors of this topic, the question is how patriotic are they, and the obvious answer is not all."

"National and continental interest must always supersede any other consideration legal or otherwise."

DA MP James Selfe said al-Bashir "has been referred to as his excellency.The only thing he is excellent at is killing people".

He recited previous statements by government officials indicating that were al-Bashir to come to South Africa, he would be arrested.

"And yet, the competent authorities sat on their hands but what is far worse is that government merely did not cock its snook at international did so to our own courts."

"There can be no doubt that our government colluded to defy the ICC and our courts and in the process it has give South Africa the reputation as an unreliable country in the international community, a country that does not honour its international commitments."

Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery was the last to take to the podium, stating that al-Bashir was attending an AU summit which took place in South Africa, while stating that the matter was still before the courts.

"It must also be added another court could have come to a different decision and the option of appeal would be one we would consider."

He said of the 36 people indicted by ICC since 2005, all were Africans.

"The fact remains Africa is the focus of a court based in Europe."

Towards the end Jeffrey, who had been heckled through his speech, raised his voice and said to a DA MP "It's still before the courts you idiot."

He immediately withdrew the remark.

"I am aware some members of the DA wished we were part of the EU and not the AU but the fact remains we are in Africa and not in Europe."

The debate was then adjourned.

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