S. Africa averted chaos by not arresting Sudan's Bashir: Experts
Some observers say al-Bashir’s arrest in South Africa would have led to conflict in Sudan

South Africa’s decision not to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during this month’s African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg averted the possibility of fresh conflicts in Sudan and political divisions across the continent, local experts assert.

"If South Africa had arrested al-Bashir, there could have been mayhem in Sudan,” political analyst Sipho Seepe told Anadolu Agency.

Al-Bashir, a sitting president, has supporters, Seepe noted, saying that his arrest could have provoked the latter into "sowing chaos” in the North African country.

"Al-Bashir was invited to attend the summit by the AU. If South Africa had arrested him, it would have undermined its position in the pan-African body,” Seepe said.

He went on to commend South Africa for supporting the AU’s stance on the matter instead of appeasing what he described as "non-African interests.”

Earlier this month, while the summit was underway, a high court in South Africa issued an interim order to prevent al-Bashir from leaving the country. The order was given after the Southern Africa Litigation Center, a local NGO, formally called for al-Bashir’s arrest.

But the Sudanese leader defied the court order, departing the country before the application could be heard. The South African government, meanwhile, did little to stop him.

Al-Bashir stands accused by The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.

South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which formally established the ICC. This means it can arrest anyone who has been formally accused by the court of committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or crimes of aggression.

Tough decision

"If al-Bashir had been arrested, there would have been a [strong] reaction from the AU and from African countries. So it was better in terms of African solidarity to let him go,” Prof. Andre Duvenhage of South Africa's Northwest University told Anadolu Agency.

He, too, warned of the possibility of increased instability in Sudan had the president been detained.

Prof. Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance, for her part, said the situation had put South Africa in a difficult position.

"The South African government had to protect its economic interests on the continent. I would probably have done the same,” she told Anadolu Agency.

South African companies, she noted, have billions of dollars invested in businesses across Africa. The country also contributes troops to peacekeeping missions across the continent, including in Sudan.

Booysen believes that, had South Africa arrested al-Bashir, these interests would have been placed at considerable risk.

End of ICC?

Some observers contend that the episode in South Africa could spell the end of the ICC’s future on the continent.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the decline of the ICC in Africa,” Booysen said.

Legal expert Shadrack Gutto, for his part, believes each African country must now make its own decision as to whether or not to pull out of the ICC.

"There are 34 African countries that have ratified the treaty so far,” he said. "Pulling out will depend on each individual country.”

Gutto went on to note that any country that wanted to relinquish its ICC membership was required to give one-year advance notice, during which it would remain bound by the terms of the treaty.

Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency last week, President al-Bashir declared that the ICC was "finished,” describing this month’s AU summit as a "funeral and burial ceremony” for the international tribunal.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) also weighed in on the matter, asserting that the ICC had strayed from its original mandate and had allowed itself to be influenced by powerful non-member states.

"We perceive it [the ICC] as tending to act as a proxy instrument for these states… to persecute African leaders and effect regime change on the continent,” the ANC stated.

The party went on to urge the AU to strengthen its own human rights institutions with a view to mitigating the need for a foreign tribunal.

Last Modified: 2015-06-24 09:32:55
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