PRETORIA – President Jacob Zuma kept diplomats guessing on Tuesday about whether or not controversial Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir might visit South Africa again next month for the summit of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (Focac).
Last time al-Bashir visited in June for the African Union (AU) summit, the North Gauteng High Court ordered the South African government to detain him under an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC wants him for committing alleged atrocities in Darfur.
But the authorities let him leave the country even though South Africa is a member of the ICC and also has its own law which obliges the government to comply with ICC arrest warrants. As a result, the High Court has held that the government flouted a court order. The government is appealing the judgement. The court was expected to rule on the appeal on Wednesday.
Briefing foreign ambassadors and journalists on South Africa’s foreign policy on Tuesday, Zuma noted that questions had been raised about whether al-Bashir would be invited to Focac.
He added that the government was aware of the order made by the ICC on September 4, requesting submissions from the South African government to be considered by the court in ruling whether or not South Africa had flouted the instructions of the ICC in failing to arrest al-Bashir.
It gave Pretoria until October 5 to submit its arguments in writing.
The ICC said in its order that if it found South Africa – as a member of the ICC – had disobeyed its obligations to the court, the ICC might refer it to the UN Security Council for further action.
The Security Council could, in theory, order sanctions against South Africa. However, it has so far never taken such concrete action against the few member states of the ICC who have permitted al-Bashir to visit their countries and have not arrested him.
Zuma said that the government was currently studying the ICC order. “We will then make a determination as to the next course of action if necessary.”
“Our own courts are also still considering the matter of President al-Bashir’s last visit to South Africa in June which [makes]the matter therefore sub-judice.
“It should however be remembered that Sudan is a member of Focac. As such, it is expected that the Sudanese Government will participate in Focac.”
However, it was significant that Zuma said “the Sudanese Government” – and not specifically President al-Bashir – would participate in Focac. Al-Bashir could decide to send someone like his deputy to represent him at the meeting.
South African official sources have said they don’t believe al-Bashir will again take the risk of coming to South Africa. – ANA