Jacob Zuma could have avoided Omar al-Bashir warrant charade

Ms Isabel Goodman from the South African litigation addresses the case file against the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir at the North Gauteng High court on June 15, 2015 in Pretoria. PHOTO | MUJAHID SAFODIEN |

What you need to know:

  • Hostility on the rise towards ICC by African Union members.

A bungling a week ago by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma over a visit by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir illustrates what politicians shouldn’t do to avoid degrading their countries.

The International Criminal Court, ICC at The Hague wants, to put it mildly, a legal tète-a-tète with al-Bashir. Its authority is rooted in the Rome Statute.

Obligations of signatory countries — South Africa is; Sudan isn’t — includes cooperation with the ICC in such matters as investigations and arrests of persons the court seeks over alleged offences. These are specified to avoid fishing expeditions.

In 2009 and 2010 the ICC issued two arrest warrants against al-Bashir because he wasn’t availing himself. The charges are war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in war torn Darfur region.

Al-Bashir became the only sitting head of state indicted by the ICC. That means he risks arrest in Statute signatory states. That curtails movement outside Sudan, hard to swallow for a person whose iron fist has ruled for 26 years, and counting.

Well, al-Bashir has managed to visit non-Statute signatory countries and a few that are. The latter include Kenya and Nigeria. In Nigeria, he beat a hasty retreat under civil similar circumstances as in South Africa. In Kenya, it was you brink an eyelid and he’s gone.

Increasing hostility towards the ICC by African countries — the African Union has advised them to ignore the ICC — seemed to be in al-Bashir’s favour. These countries allege the ICC only targets African leaders and serves the interests of the West.


African leaders don’t have the monopoly of obnoxious governance. However, arguing that the ICC is biased because it has, so far, charged only African leaders is “A chicken thief shall go free until all others are caught” sort of reasoning.

The ICC servicing interests of the West remains dubious.

With perceived protection by peers, and, it has emerged Zuma’s grant of diplomatic immunity to attendees, al-Bashir attended the AU Summit in South Africa. In quick succession, the South Africa Litigation Centre, a civil society group, unsuccessfully sought a High Court order for al-Bashir’s arrest.

Undeterred, it obtained an interim one ordering the government to prevent him leaving, pending the hearing of the case the following day, last Monday.

Inadvertently, advocate William Mokhari, for the state, summed up the absurdity of the government’s action, telling three High Court judges it wasn’t easy to ascertain al-Bashir whereabouts.

“He could be in his hotel, he could be shopping.”

He was airborne, courtesy of Zuma.

The judges described the government’s behaviour as “inconsistent with the constitution” and demanded an affidavit about circumstances of al-Bashir’s escape. In a nutshell, the government ignored a court order, which is tantamount to condoning lawlessness.

Countries behave and act in manners that serve their interests. Other than placating African floggers of a dead horse they call “imperialism,” whatever benefits, if any, that South African accrued from hosting al-Bashir remain dubious.

Yet Zuma had a legitimate way out, telling al-Bashir, “Brother… (And brotherhood is abundant in AU summits) I don’t mind you coming, but there are already too many problems in my kraal,” and thus avoid degrading South Africa.