Civil Society Declaration on Omar al-Bashir’s visit to South Africa without Arrest

The undersigned civil society groups, working on international criminal justice and human rights, express our deep disappointment with the actions of South African officials in allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, under charges of the most serious crimes, to depart the country in defiance of a court order and South Africa’s international legal obligations. We applaud the efforts of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which sought to ensure that the government of South Africa abided by its international obligations by arresting al-Bashir.

President al-Bashir, charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the conflict in Darfur was in South Africa from 13-15 June for an African Union Summit. South Africa was under a clear obligation to arrest him pursuant to two warrants of arrest issued against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 4 March 2009 (for war crimes and crimes against humanity) and on 12 July 2010 (for genocide).
South Africa is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Pursuant to the terms of that treaty mandating international cooperation and assistance with the ICC, South Africa was required to facilitate the arrest and surrender of President al-Bashir to The Hague in the Netherlands, the seat of the International Criminal Court. In addition, South Africa’s domestication of the Rome Statute of the ICC makes the government’s failure to arrest President Omar al-Bashir a contravention of domestic law as well.
On 13 June, ICC Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser issued a decision declaring that “there exists 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 in the Republic of South Africa are already aware of this obligation.”
Against this background, and because the South African authorities did not appear to intend to effect the arrest of President al-Bashir, the Southern African Litigation Centre moved an application once al-Bashir was in South Africa to compel the Government of South Africa to discharge its legal obligations to arrest al-Bashir and surrender him to the ICC. During the proceedings before the Pretoria High Court, Justice Hans Fabricius made an interim order “compelling Respondents to prevent President Omar al-Bashir from leaving the country until an order is made in this court” after the State opposed the application.
We noted with deep concern reports that rather than arresting President al-Bashir, South African officials apparently allowed him to leave the country in direct defiance of the order by the Pretoria High Court. The actions pose serious consequences for the independence of the judiciary in South Africa and demonstrate a flagrant lack of respect for the rule of law and the rights of Darfur’s victims to have access to justice.
As made clear by ICC Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser in his 13 June decision: “the immunities granted to Omar Al Bashir under international law and attached to his position as a Head of State have been implicitly waived by the Security Council of the United Nations by resolution 1593 (2005) referring the situation in Darfur, Sudan to the Prosecutor of the Court, and that the Republic of South Africa cannot invoke any other decision, including that of the African Union, providing for any obligation to the contrary.”
The recent actions by South Africa have the potential to erode the people’s confidence in the administration of justice particularly because it raises issues of equality before the law, the legitimacy of the courts and court orders being binding on everyone as provided for in Article 165 (2), (4) and (5) of the Constitution of South Africa (1994) respectively. If State officials can disregard with impunity the interim order of the Pretoria Court, what will stop them from undermining future court orders? That is the question foremost on the minds of many South Africans today.
We call on the courts of South Africa to establish accountability and on the government to undertake an independent investigation into the circumstances that allowed for the departure of President al-Bashir in defiance of the Pretoria Court order and international arrest warrant and for full cooperation with the Court’s own inquiry on the matter. Those responsible must be brought to prompt justice, including for contempt of court. We also call on the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC to take appropriate action to address non-compliance by South Africa and other States who breach their obligations of cooperation and assistance under the ICC Statute. We call on the United Nations Security Council which was briefed by the ICC Prosecutor on the situation in Darfur on 29 June to strongly reaffirm the obligation of States parties to duly cooperate with the ICC. Members of the Security Council, who referred Darfur to the ICC, have a special responsibility to fully support and facilitate the prosecutor’s continued work.

We also call on governments and political parties alike to respect the space afforded to civil society organisations, pursuant to the South African Constitution, to litigate in the interests of the public. Matters of justice and accountability are pursued in the interests of the public, and civil society organisations have a mandate that warrants action when government authorities act in contravention of constitutionally protected values. Access to justice is a constitutionally enshrined right that all are entitled to utilise.

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  • Co-signatories

    Associação de Reintegração dos Jovens/Crianças na Vida Social, Angola
    Associação Justiça Paz e Democracia, Angola
    Missão de Beneficência Agropecuária do Kubango, Inclusão, Tecnologias e Ambiente, Angola
    Omunga Association, Angola
    DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Botswana
    Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale, Burundi
    Cameroon Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Cameroon
    Associação Caboverdiana de Mulheres Juristas, Cape Verde
    Coalition pour la Cour Pénale Internationale de la République Centrafricaine, Central African Republic
    Coalition Ivoirienne pour la Cour Pénale Internationale, Côte d’Ivoire
    Groupe de Travail sur les Instruments Internationaux de l’ONU, Côte d’Ivoire
    Observatoire Ivoirien des Droits de l’Homme, Côte d’Ivoire
    Réseau Equitas, Côte d’Ivoire
    Action Congolaise pour le Respect des Droits Humains, Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Club des Amis du Droit du Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Observatoire decentralize de la RADDHO pour la Région des Grands Lacs, Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Vision Sociale, Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Human Rights Concern - Eritrea
    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, Gambia
    Africa Legal Aid, Ghana, Netherlands
    Media Foundation for West Africa, Ghana
    International Center for Policy and Conflict, Kenya
    International Commission of Jurists, Kenya
    Kenya Human Rights Commission, Kenya
    Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, Kenya
    Transformation Resource Centre, Lesotho
    Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Malawi
    Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance, Malawi
    Centre for the Development of People, Malawi
    Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS, Malawi
    Maphunziro Foundation, Malawi
    Coalition Malienne pour la Cour Pénale Internationale, Mali
    Femmes et Droits Humains, Mali
    Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l’Homme, Mauritania
    Associação, Mulher, Lei e Desenvolvimento, Mozambique
    AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, Namibia
    NamRights, Namibia
    Access to Justice, Nigeria
    Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre, Nigeria
    Coalition for Eastern NGOs, Nigeria
    Legal Defence & Assistance Project, Nigeria
    National Coalition on Affirmative Action, Nigeria
    Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Nigeria
    Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Nigeria
    West African Bar Association, Nigeria
    Women Advocates’ Research and Documentation Center, Nigeria
    Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, Senegal
    African Center for Democratic Studies, Sierra Leone
    Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Sierra Leone
    Society for Democratic Initiatives, Sierra Leone
    Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa
    Corruption Watch, South Africa
    Gay and Lesbian Network, South Africa
    Global Interfaith Network on Sex, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression, South Africa
    International Crime in Africa Programme, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa
    Human Rights Institute of South Africa, South Africa
    Khulumani Support Group, South Africa
    Ndifuna Ukwazi, South Africa
    Section27, South Africa
    Sonke Gender Justice, South Africa
    Street Law South Africa, South Africa
    New Sudan Council of Churches, South Sudan
    Voice for Change, South Sudan
    Darfur Bar Association, Sudan
    Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre, Switzerland
    Children Education Society, Tanzania
    Kisarawe Paralegals Organization, Tanzania
    LGBT Voice, Tanzania
    Services Health & Development For People Living Positively HIV/AIDS, Tanzania
    Tanzania Network of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, Tanzania
    African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Uganda
    African Freedom of Information Centre, Uganda
    Empowered at Dusk Women’s Association, Uganda
    Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Uganda
    Human Rights Network, Uganda
    Initiative for Rural Development, Uganda
    Uganda Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Uganda
    Uganda Victims Foundation, Uganda
    Initiative for Civil Liberties, Zambia
    Southern Africa Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Zambia
    Counselling Services Unit, Zimbabwe
    Research and Advocacy Unit, Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe
    Sudan Zero Conflict, UK
    Waging Peace, UK
    Act for Sudan, USA
    Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan, USA
    Darfur Women Action Group, USA
    Dear Sudan, Love Marin, USA
    International Justice Project, USA
    Investors Against Genocide, USA
    Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, USA
    Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition, USA
    San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, USA
    Sudan Unlimited, USA
    Coalition for the International Criminal Court
    Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme
    Human Rights Watch
    International Commission of Jurists
    Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

  • Member organisations - Sudan
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