The controversial arrival and subsequent departure of the President Omar al-Bashir from South Africa was put under the spotlight at a parliamentary debate on Tuesday, with parties saying the country’s failure to arrest him has soured its reputation or suggesting he should be arrested in his hometown.
The ANC, on the other hand, defended government’s decision to let Bashir leave the country.
Bashir was in South Africa for the AU Summit last week and his plane was allowed to depart from the Waterkloof Airforce Base despite a court order that he be kept in the country pending a final decision on whether to arrest him on an International Crimes Court (ICC) warrant.
Bashir is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Economic Freedom Fighters chief whip Floyd Shivambu said they did not agree with the selective prosecution of the ICC for Africans and it had been naive to think it would be wise to arrest a head of state in South Africa.
“It was going to lead to instability in the country were he came from, it was going to threaten our security as South Africa. It was going to lead to the undermining of the statue of South Africa in the international context. If the ICC has to be trusted by everyone involved, it should take decisive action in arresting the prime minister of Morocco, who continues to colonially occupy the Western Sahara. The ICC should arrest George Bush for the illegal war in Iraq, the ICC should arrest Tony Blair for the war in Iraq.
“It must arrest Barack Obama and President Zuma for colluding to kill Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. It should also arrest Cyril Ramaphosa for killing workers in Marikana. If the ICC wants Bashir, they must go fetch him,” Shivambu said.
He said the party, however, did not agree with disregard of court orders by the ANC.
“It sets precedence for the future defiance of courts in terms of what should happen. There could have been a much more sophisticated way to deal with Bashir than just utter defiance and disregard of the courts of law. But we say Africans must rise up to establish their own institutions of accountability.”
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota said President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet had lied when they told the country they would uphold the Constitution and the country was shamed in front of the world.
DA MP James Selfe said by letting Bashir leave the country, government did not only merely lift its middle finger to its international obligations, in defiance of section 231(4) of the Constitution, it did so to South African courts.
“There can be no doubt at all that government colluded to defy the ICC and our Courts. In the process, it has given South Africa the reputation as an unreliable country in the international community – as a country that does not honour its commitments.”
United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa said an overarching foreign policy approach was needed to unite nations.
“However, if the ICC is to be a credible instrument for international justice, a common approach has to be established and it must bind all nations equally, including the most powerful state. After all, the United Nations Security Council, to which we are all affiliated, is currently patrolling the streets of Darfur. Why don’t they arrest him there?” said Holomisa.
The ANC, however, stood by the decision, with MPs advocating for peace over justice.
Deputy Minister Obed Bapela said the debate Parliament and every corner of our country should be having is whether the ICC had not become a stumbling block for the achievement of peace.
“And what the continent must do given the imperative for peace and stability which is the basis upon which the continent’s renewal is to be built. We are also aware and deeply concerned of the fact that the ICC has also fallen victim of the geopolitical calculus of the powerful, who demand that it tries some cases while rejecting its involvement in others.”
He said Bashir was not visiting South Africa when he was in the country.
“He was not on a state visit. He was invited to the AU by the AU. In the 70 years of the existence of the UN, the US has never attempted to arrest any leader and there were serious and notorious dictators at the time. We are not going to use the AU to be the platform where we arrest leaders. That will never happen,” he said to loud applause from the ANC caucus.
Deputy Minister John Jeffreys said in discussing this matter, the country needed to take into consideration the importance to South Africa of fulfilling its obligations to the ICC, “but also the importance to us of our relations with states on the continent”.
“We recognise our international obligations, but at the same time we have to be mindful of our position and interests in the region and the continent. South Africa was asked to host the AU Summit that was held a week ago. This summit is attended by the Heads of State or Government of all AU member states. This includes Sudan. We believed that, in spite of the ICC arrest warrant, President Bashir had immunity to attend an international summit as a Head of State.
“Without making any comment on the circumstances of President Bashir’s departure what would have happened if South Africa had arrested him? What would the response have been from the African Union? What would our standing have been regarding other countries in the Region? I am aware that some members of the DA wish we were part of the EU and not the AU, but the fact remains we are in Africa not Europe,” he said.
Role of justice
Small Business Development minister Lindiwe Zulu said history would absolve them.
“Africa’s newest state, the Republic of South Sudan, would not be in existence today had the parties placed the issue of justice above all others. This does not mean that there is no role for justice for victims of conflicts. It means that recognising the complexities inherent in conflict resolution, it is best to address the question of justice in the context of a political settlement.
“As South Africa, we might have made more emphasis on justice than peace – if that had been the case, some of our honourable members may not have been able to sit on the benches of this Parliament but, because we chose to negotiate a peaceful transmission from apartheid to democracy, we are here together. We chose to give peace an opportunity. Do these members really think we were going to arrest a head of state? They must think again.”
On Friday, the Mail & Guardian reported on how President Jacob Zuma and key ministers plotted to ensure Bashir’s safe passage from the country, in contravention of a court order and international convention.
On Tuesday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane has written a letter to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, asking for an investigation into Bashir’s departure from the country, saying there were too many questions that needed to be answered.
“The ICC made it clear that there was no ambiguity or uncertainty with respect to the obligation of the Republic of South Africa to immediately arrest and surrender Omar Al-Bashir to the court, and that the competent authorities are already aware of this obligation. Moreover, a South African delegation was informed on June 12 that there were no grounds on which this obligation could be waived allowing for Bashir being granted immunity from arrest while in South Africa.”
Some of the questions the DA poses in their letter to the public protector are: Why was Bashir not arrested on arrival in South Africa? Who authorised Bashir’s departure from Waterkloof in violation of a high court ruling prohibiting it?
When the DA announced their decision to write to the public protector on Sunday, the ANC in Parliament said they [DA] were “driven by sheer political posturing which makes a mockery of this important Chapter 9 institution”.