8 July 2009

Africa: Botswana Shows Up SA On AU 'Reprieve' for Bashir

Johannesburg — SOUTH Africa has been upstaged by Botswana breaking ranks and condemning an African Union (AU) decision not to co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its indictment of Sudan's president.

Botswana's criticism was the strongest by an AU member country since the resolution in favour of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was passed last Friday at the summit chaired by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

SA let the resolution pass despite being a signatory to the convention on the ICC, and has now tied itself into a diplomatic conundrum. By remaining silent on the AU resolution, SA gives tacit approval to Bashir's flouting of his indictment, the first against a sitting head of state. SA is obliged to assist in the arrest of Bashir.

The AU summit decision enables Bashir to travel across Africa without fear of arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity as set out by the ICC.

It is understood Gaddafi forced the AU resolution on member states without proper debate or attempting to find consensus, as is the norm on sensitive matters.

Botswana Vice-President Mompati Merafhe said yesterday, in a speech posted on the presidency website, that Gaddafi "did not permit much debate on this matter, and therefore we did not get an opportunity to put our opinion across".

"It is our view that Africa should not try to undermine the work of the ICC simply because one head of state called al-Bashir has been indicted by the court." He said Botswana would honour its treaty obligations by fully co-operating in the arrest of al-Bashir.

Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokeswoman Nomfanelo Kota said while the South African government would explain its position in due course, the AU resolution was not indicative of SA's attitude to the ICC. The AU's door remained open for constructive engagement with the ICC on al- Bashir.

The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement condemned the AU decision as a "blatant bias against the victims".

The movement threatened to pull out of an AU-led peace process, led by former president Thabo Mbeki, that is looking into ways to resolve the conflict in Darfur. With Reuters

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