Nigeria was wrong to host Omar Al-Bashir at AU summit – By Stephen A. Lamony
A July editorial in The Sunday Trust opined that the Nigerian government was right to host the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir during a recent African Union (AU) summit despite an outstanding arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
However, the author’s argument that a host country cannot dictate who the AU invites to its meetings is false and based on inaccurate information. Many states in the region have demonstrated that AU obligations and those of the ICC Rome Statute are not mutually exclusive.
Only last year Malawi took a stand against Al-Bashir, a fugitive facing charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Nigeria, despite clear obligations as ICC state party, chose not to.
The 19th AU summit in July last year took place in Ethiopia, not Malawi as was originally scheduled. This change of plans was prompted by Malawi’s President Joyce Banda threatening to execute the ICC warrant against Al-Bashir if he entered her country. After being pressured by the AU and Sudan to allow Al-Bashir to attend, Banda refused to host the summit altogether.
There is no basis for Nigeria’s obligations to cooperate with the ICC, which Nigeria voluntarily joined, to be rendered moot by an AU decision calling for non-cooperation in Al-Bashir’s arrest. Most states have found a way to avoid flouting their commitments to the ICC despite the AU decision. They have encouraged Sudan to send representatives other than the president to their countries, relocated conferences, canceled visits or made it clear he will be arrested if he visits.
In 2009, Al-Bashir was invited to attend the inauguration of Zuma, the new chairperson of the African Union, as AU protocol dictates. However, South Africa advised him to stay away, as South Africa is a state party to the ICC and would arrest him. Instead, a representative of the unity government represented Al-Bashir at the ceremony. Again in 2010, Al-Bashir was told to stay away from the World Cup, President Jacob Zuma said “he respected international law, and would abide by the law.”
Right after the AU summit in 2009, Phandu Skelemani, Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said “we will hand Al-Bashir over to the ICC if ever he came to our shores.” The Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem, also said that “police “˜will ensure that he is arrested’ if Al-Bashir arrives” and in the end, Al-Bashir decided not to attend an AU summit in Kampala in 2010.
In 2011, Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chishimba Kambwili said “Let Al-Bashir try to come to Zambia and he will regret the day he was born. Zambia is a sovereign state and we are not going to do something just because other people have not done it.”
According to Botswana’s Foreign Affairs minister, the 2009 decision was adopted by African leaders under pressure from AU Chairman, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2010. In 2012, the Assembly of the AU requested member states to balance their AU obligations with their ICC obligations.
The editorial pointedly questions who truly has the African people’s interest at heart – the ICC or the AU. This article, however, fails to realize that a significant number of Africans want justice (A point previously explored in my article entitled: Is the International Criminal Court really picking on Africa?)
The ICC is not perfect, but it is a bulwark against impunity for victims in Africa and other situations around the world. For example, the threat of an ICC investigation may have prevented the escalation of an inter-ethnic war in the Cí´te d’Ivoire.
Critics of the ICC’s work in Africa and elsewhere should have the courage to acknowledge the positive effects the Court is having and the continued support for its work by many Africans. In July 2012, 6 Ministers from ECOWAS called on the ICC to investigate and prosecute crimes in Mali. This request for intervention shows their support and trust in the court. Activists in capitals from Freetown to Nairobi, from Dakar to Kinshasa, and from Pretoria to Kampala have repeatedly called on the AU to show greater support to the ICC.
But more than that, significant players like Nigeria should not take action that stymies justice for victims of grave crimes, which is precisely what welcoming Al-Bashir to Nigeria did.
Stephen Lamony is a Senior Adviser at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. He is passionate about Africa & believes Africa will be a better place when no African leader or senior government official is above the law.
While I am no supporter of Bashir — and indeed I believe he should face trial for allegations made against him — I think the argument here is flawed and arrogant, to an extent. I understand that there are certain responsibilities EXPECTED of nations which are signatories to international statutes and principles; however, in the absence of an alternative political world order, nation-states remain the defining political feature of modern world and the exercise of their sovereignty supersedes their obligations to international bodies — this is an issue that many people feel uncomfortable with, but it remains the inconvenient reality of the modern world!
With that said, to argue that Nigeria is WRONG for hosting Bashir represents a double standard often advocated by parties who feel a certain degree of moral superiority — often over developing nations. Perhaps, if you argued that Nigeria acted IRRESPONSIBLY (and not WRONGLY), then it would give more your credibility and balance to your argument.
Besides, one could argue that countries which had requested alternative representatives from Sudan (rather Bashir himself) to attend high-level meetings are themselves shirking away from their ICC responsibility by essentially saying to Bashir, “Stay clear because we really do not want to arrest you”. Surely this in itself represents a contradiction of your position, no?
You can’t on the on hand slap Nigeria’s wrist for what you perceive as wrong doing, and on the other hand give a free pass to other countries which had done similar, just using different tactics.
The way I see it, you either call a spade a spade or you don’t. Enough of the double standards already.
If I am to take a wild guess, Stephen is certainly a citizen of one of the so called ‘bastions of justice, peace and human rights’…..We get your noble passion for Africa but please enough with this foolery…that Nigeria decided to host Omar Bashir should be of no concern to you. Nigeria is a sovereign country and she amongst the many other countries on the continent were hood winked into signing and becoming members of the ICC. Sadly being hood winked should not be an excuse for stupidity but clearly the motive or rather the intent of this so called organization was not spelt out to many. Tell me, what EXACTLY is the role of the ICC in Africa? Isn’t it simply a witch hunting organization set up to deal with enemies of the West under the guise of justice and human rights. ….Should we begin to list the atrocities of the West in many parts of the world and whom it’s perpetrators would never be brought to justice ….Tell me, why is the US not a ratified member of the ICC after all what is good for the goose should be good for the gander? Oh yes, we forget, some countries are above the law and reproach. Enough with the hypocrisy and double standards as Mangi put it, until the UN and its sister organizations begin to show equity and transparency in the way it handles its affairs, then the rest of the world will continue to follow the example of the West. Africa has woken up to the neo-colonialism these shoddy organizations posit and we will run our affairs the way we deem fit…Good try Stephen but objectivity is key if you are to have any credibility!
For information, I wanted to offer two points of clarification.
First, I was born and raised in Uganda, and also worked for 3 years in northern Uganda in internally displaced persons camps during armed conflict that has ravaged that region.
Second, the piece acknowledges that international justice is not perfect; international justice should be improved and its reach should be extended to all countries. But its limitations should not be used as an excuse for avoiding justice for victims where it might be possible.
I dunno. If I were a relative of one of the millions of people killed and displaced by Bashir’s government (and I am) in his on-going genocidal civil war against his own people (say what you want about Bush, at least he wasn’t killing his own people), I’d like to see African governments sticking up for me instead of circling the wagons to protect themselves. Whose interests are we serving by protecting brutal dictators like Bashir?
I agree with Deng Kuol and the author of this article. The primary concern of world leaders should be the protection of the innocent; not the preservation of their own political careers or their standing among any group of thugs that has managed to gain power. If a nation is not going to abide by ICC policies, it should withdraw its membership. Pretending to care about human rights by being an ICC member, yet refusing to do what is required is simply hypocrisy on steroids.
Dear “good” readers, I have followed the argument around this issues of Al Bashir visit to Nigeria, and the subsequent comments on Lamong post.
First, in this world of IT, everyone speaks from their comfort zones, irrespective of their past experiences and what holds for the future. We need to understand that there is a difference between the African states and the rest of the world, the type of governments we have and the leaders, the states resemble the leaders, how many African leaders have ruled their count rice for life?, what about America, Europe, Asia, Middle East?. Just today, Mugabe has won the elections in Zambia, would you want to be part of the Zambian citizens?. How many illegal migrants have died in seas escaping hostile life from their counties and no one offer a house for them??, I think we need to put right development in the African states through good governance.
I write this comment from Northern Uganda where Bashir is accused of supporting the LRA to slaughter thousands of innocent civilians including my close relatives and friends, why must he not be arrested and he face justice? NO, he must face justice.
Where shall we go to answer for the blood of the millions of black Africans that El Bashir has mowed down and continues to mow down? I will not, for one minute believe the ICC is bleeding its heart for the plight of the oppressed worldwide as suggested in this article. As far as the ICC goes it seems human rights are only defendable where there is no confluence with the interests of powerful western nations. But with the AU falling all over itself to plonk the red carpet over our dead bodies every time dictators and genociders come knocking, and freely laundering these scoundrels and cloaking them with respectability despite their depravity, where do we the grass that elephants wantonly stomp upon turn to for some form of acknowledgement of our existence and suffering and some measure of justice? Yes, the ICC picks on African rights abusers, just like it was meant to, but Africans through their leaders (or because of them) have ensured that the conditions are just right for the indignities of neo-colonialism to be visited upon us. So we have to lump it, though it may choke us, until the day we can provide justice for the millions regularly slaughtered like poultry by the likes of El Bashir. It is always regrettable that the western world gets away with murder, mayhem and massacre, all the time, and regrettable that the western world, with its bloody hands, can lecture us on human rights abuses, but just because certain well known personalities from the west are not likely to ever answer for their own misdeeds in less important places where ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ do not reign does not mean that we Africans should shield the tin-pot dictators and genociders in our backyard from the ICC. Just because rich countries have imposed the ICC for their own ends, does not mean we cannot use it for our own ends(nor should we, if I might add, actively avoid using the ICC barring any credible African alternative)to make our leaders answerable, to limit their worst excesses, to force them to acknowledge they owe us a debt of good stewardship for the continent. I will sleep easier as an African if at the end of the day the fear of the ICC prevents another Sudan, another Darfur, another Rwanda, and I don’t give a farthing if a white man handed the sentence. I care more for the civilians of Darfur, than I care for Mr El Bashir’s sense of self worth. If the ICC, blunt as it is, is another weapon we the African masses can use to beat a path to better governance for the continent, then we should use it. It is not as expensive as the many ‘crisis conferences’, ‘summits’ and ‘talks’ that AU leaders like to summon so they can collectively wring their hands and give us a ‘renaissance’spin on our suffering.