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Why Did South Africa Let Wanted Sudanese President Bashir Leave the Country?

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir arriving in Juba, South Sudan in 2011. Photo released by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons (BY-SA 2.0)

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir arriving in Juba, South Sudan in 2011. Photo released by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons (BY-SA 2.0)

The drama involving Sudanese President Omar al Bashir has taken many twists and turns. Bashir was attending African Union talks in South Africa when a local court issued an interim order stopping him from leaving the country until it hears application for his arrest. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.

He defied the court order and left the country. There were laughter in the court in Pretoria when the bench hearing his case was told.

A local news channel has reported that Sudan held hostage South African troops in Sudan over the issue. A high court in Johannesburg has given the South African government seven days to file an affidavit explaining how president Bashir left the country.

Opinions are sharply divided between those who are accusing the South African government of defying a court order and violating its own constitution and those who portray the ICC as an instrument of Western imperialism.

A former aide to ex-South African President Thabo Mbeki listed on his blog reasons why it would have been “ill-advised” for the government to arrest Bashir, including:

  • placing our bilateral relations with Sudan, some of her neighbours and the wider Muslim world in harm’s way. South Africa currently has thousands of police and military personnel serving under the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur, Sudan. We must visualise likely scenarios of what might befall these South Africans were we to arrest President Bashir. This means considering something which regrettably does not come naturally and easily among sections of South African society, i.e. the national interest;
  • weakening and dividing instead of strengthening the African Union and promoting continental unity. President Bashir is in South Africa at the invitation of the AU, which does not have sanctions over him. Arresting him would serve to weaken and divide the AU because it would imply that we are unable if not unwilling to protect the AU when it matters most.
  • United Nations–African Union Mission in DarfurUnited Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur

By comparison, the US government does not arrest foreign Heads of State and Government, even when it has sanctions over them, when they attend the UN General Assembly every September. They would, without doubt, weaken and eventually destroy the UN were they to do so.

Botswana is the only country in Africa which has made it clear that Bashir will be arrested and handed over to the ICC if he visits the country.

Commenting on his post, Gift Mangwale argued that the ICC unfairly targets black presidents. He wondered why no one has been arrested for war crimes in Iraq following US invasion of the country:

indeed ICC is meant for black presidents only. first W Bush killed Saddam to avenge his father but disguise that by saying there is weapon of mass distruction in Irag which were never found but, till to date no one was arrested. colonel Gaddafi was killed. Tony Blair was never tried by the ICC. why only African leaders. maybe the name should be changed to ACC (African criminal court)

However, Simon Ndaba argued in the blog's comments section the government should show an example in respecting court decisions:

Well. South Africa has deified the court orders by not making sure that ALBASHIR does not leave the country. It has led by example. When people start doing the same, will they drop their jaws. Government should be in the fore front of upholding constitutional obligations.

Arnold Baldwin argued the African Union is simply a way for the continent's dictators to protect each other:

Africa’s hatred of the west is deepening by the day. A.U is just a club for dictators and they got each other’s back. Someone has to make these so called African leaders to accountability and its not the A.U. Who is gonna talk for the dead of Darfur?

Bashir, who came to power in 1989, became the first sitting president to be indicted by the ICC. The court issued an arrest warrant for him on March 4, 2009, for war crimes committed during the civil war in Darfur before the referendum that divided Sudan and South Sudan. The Sudanese government does not recognize the authority of the ICC.

On Twitter, Paul Van Wyk said Sudan blackmailed South Africa:

Africa does not want to uphold atrocities but simply solve its problems without the West's involvement, wrote Outside Rockstar:

Dipheta called the whole affair “nonsensical”:

Akumu Fiona said Bashir being allowed to leave downplays Sudanese lives and deaths:

Trevor Ncube referenced the thousands upon thousands who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe:

Gontse Manyelo argued that what was done, was done:

  • Bashupi B Maloboka

    How long is Africa going to remain colonized, never to take a decision of their own on their own issues. When Africans fight terrorism the west side with them and when the west fight them Africans are expected to join the west what is this?

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