ICC chief seeks support in Africa after al-Bashir warrant

The president of the International Criminal Court (ICC) began a five-day visit to Africa on Monday to try to drum up support for the court, which has been widely maligned on the continent over its indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

ICC president Sang-Hyun Song kicked off his first visit to the continent since taking office in Tanzania. Song became the head of the ICC, which is based in the Hague, in March.

It was in March that the ICC issued a warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the six-year conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

Al-Bashir has denied the charges.

“It is of high importance to the International Criminal Court to maintain dialogue with the continent that has been engaged in every aspect of the court’s work since its establishment,” Song said in an ICC statement announcing his visit.

Besides meeting in Tanzania with Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe and Justice Minister Mathias Chikawe, Song would also visit the tiny kingdom of Lesotho and the diamond-rich desert state of Botswana.

In Botswana, he would be met by President Ian Khama, an outspoken critic of human rights abusers, while in Lesotho, he would be met by Prime Minister Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili.

Song would also visit South Africa but would not meet with government officials, according to the ICC statement.

A spokesperson for former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who who has been mandated by the African Union to intervene on al-Bashir’s behalf with the ICC, said Song would not be meeting with Mbeki either.

“There hasn’t been any request by the president of the court for a meeting with Mr Mbeki,” said Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga.

South Africa, like the AU, had opposed the ICC’s decision last year to indict al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, arguing the indictment should have been deferred by a year to give peace a chance in Sudan.

It was unclear whether Song, who was scheduled to give a lecture at a security think-thank in Pretoria, had sought a meeting with the government and been rebuffed.

A spokesperson at the international relations ministry was unable to give a reply.

The ICC said Song looked forward to returning for an official visit “before the end of the year”.

While rights activists have generally welcomed al-Bashir’s indictment, many African politicians and ordinary citizens accuse the court of “targeting” Africans.

The ICC is investigating human rights abuses in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic as well as Sudan.

Song said he would be pushing African countries to enact their own legislation on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to “to make trials in The Hague less necessary”.

Al-Bashir has reacted defiantly to the warrant, while curtailing his travel for fear of arrest.

He was invited to attend a meeting of leaders of the 19-country Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) in Zimbabwe at the weekend.

“Al-Bashir had been invited yes,” said Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Zimbabwe’s minister of international cooperation. But she added: “Sudan’s head of state may not come.
They said they may send the deputy.”

It was unclear why al-Bashir would not attend as Zimbabwe is one of the 23 African countries that has not ratified the Rome Treaty that founded the court, meaning he would not necessarily face arrest. - Sapa-DPA

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