Pretoria - It was unfortunate that South Africa had to disobey the High Court in Pretoria’s order and not arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, deputy ANC secretary general Jessie Duarte said on Wednesday.
“It’s unfortunate that we actually had to disobey a judge’s order to comply with an international obligation that we have,” she told reporters.
“I think the country made the right choice. You do not make the choice to arrest a sitting head of state on your soil, ever.”
She said the Africa Union constitution obliged member states to support the decisions of its peace and security council, one of which was to defer, for a year, bringing charges against Al-Bashir.
There was no talk of “wiping the slate clean” regarding the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity Al-Bashir faced for the deaths of thousands of people in Sudan’s Darfur region.
“We are not undermining the really serious human rights issues that did take place in Darfur,” she said.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court to stand trial on charges, including genocide. As South Africa is a signatory to the court’s Rome Statute it is obliged to arrest and hand him over to the court.
Despite this, and in defiance of a court order, it allowed him to leave South Africa on June 15. He had been in the country attending an AU summit.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said it was a question of whether South Africa should subsume its relationship with the continent to “other, superior, multilateral Western institutions”.
“Africa is not inferior, not a junior to European-based institutions. We can’t juniorise Africa,” he said.
It was not a pure judicial matter, but also a political matter which had implications for the country. Had South Africa arrested al-Bashir it would have faced isolation and its soldiers, stationed in some African countries, would have been at risk.
“What would have happened to those soldiers, including in Sudan?” he asked.
“We will be a pariah state in the continent. We can’t limit that debate only to what the law says. What are the legal implications? It’s a serious political matter. We can’t isolate ourselves from the continent.”
SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande said letting Al-Bashir leave was “part of a political understanding and settlement”. He compared it to how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission allowed for the suspension of “judicial action” against those involved in apartheid-era atrocities.