Al-Bashir matter 'derailed' AU Summit

2015-06-15 20:03
(Shiraaz Mohamed, AP)

(Shiraaz Mohamed, AP)

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Johannesburg - The attendance of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir completely derailed the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg, an analyst said on Monday.

"If there was more transparency, if it was better planned, this crisis could have been avoided," said Liesl Louw-Vaudran.

The opening ceremony was late, press conferences started hours after their scheduled start time, and important issues like terrorism and refugees were overshadowed.

It polarised debate amongst the observers, even the journalists, she said.

"It derailed the focus of the summit. Following the xenophobic attacks, South Africa already does not have a great image. It wasn't managed properly and transparently, with no communication. It was all hush hush. Has he come? Has he left? Is he here? Is he not?"

News24 obtained a minute sent out ahead of this weekend’s AU meeting to all member states, bearing International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s name, assuring them that they have "immunities and privileges" when visiting South Africa for the summit.

In the notice she refers to an "agreement between the Republic of South Africa and the Commission of the African Union of the Material and Technical Organisation of the Meetings" that took place around the AU summit last week, as well as this weekend’s assembly of African heads of state.

In her minute she refers to section 5(3) of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act of 2001, which gives her the power to gazette any arrangement around diplomatic immunity to delegates to meetings of international bodies in South Africa. 

But Vaudrain said the al-Bashir issue caught everybody by surprise and felt the South African government could either have asked him not to come, or should have known that an NGO would try and have him arrested.

Earlier, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria granted an application by the SA Litigation Centre that al-Basheer be detained in South Africa to be handed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide, but it was too late.

In spite of an order that all points of entry and exit in South Africa be told to prevent his departure until the ruling, al-Bashir was long gone and had landed in Sudan unhindered.

Louw-Vaudrain continued: "South Africa's diplomacy is so ad hoc. If this was a strategic move by South Africa to say they are planning to withdraw from the International Criminal Court because we don't agree with the court, then that was never communicated to anybody."

Amnesty International said the government's failure to abide by its own court order was "shocking" and a betrayal of the victims of the Darfur conflict.

"By failing to hand President Omar al-Bashir over to the ICC during his stay in the country, the South African authorities, under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, have through their inaction, aided Omar al-Bashir in his quest to avoid justice."

"It is completely unacceptable and shocking for South Africa, as a member of the ICC, to ignore its international obligations in this way and allow impunity free rein."

But South Africa's chairperson of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Siphosezwe Masango, said the court application was an opportunistic act meant to pit African leaders against each other.

“The task at hand that ought to occupy Africans is to make Africa a better continent whose place on the global stage is respected.

"Government should be alert to opportunism by civil society organisations whose claim to legitimacy is to 'strengthen democracy by overseeing African governments' while the opposite is true,” he said.

Advocate Johan Kruger, director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, expressed concern over the government's "clear violation" of the court's order that al-Bashir not be allowed to leave, and said the South African government now finds itself on the wrong side of the Constitution, and International law.

Read more on:    au  |  icc  |  omar al-bashir  |  johannesburg

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