UPDATED WITH COMMENTS: SA actions on al-Bashir “a cause for dismay”

Repercussions from President Jacob Zuma’s overruling of his own Judicial system in the al-Bashir saga is sure to haunt the country for a long time. After the Nkandla pillaging and FIFA World Cup bribery, it was already common cause among most of the 99.3% who live outside the country – and many within – that SA has lost its moral compass. President Jacob Zuma’s cabal which now rules the ANC has shown they believe they’re above the law. This time not only the laws of their own country but internationally too. Here is how the world’s most influential newspaper, the Financial Times of London, views events of the past few days – and implications for the country which once aspired for moral leadership in Africa. With highly respected Paul Mashatile, chairman of the ANC in Gauteng, having distanced himself from the party leadership you have to wonder how long before other like-minded members in Mandela’s one-time home also throw in the towel. – Alec Hogg 

Zapiro returns to his Jacon "hollow man" Zuma theme. More of the cartoonist's brilliance is at zapiro.com
Zapiro returns to his Jacon “hollow man” Zuma theme. More of the cartoonist’s brilliance is at zapiro.com

Editorial Comment from the Financial Times of London:

For a moment, it looked as though the International Criminal Court had run its man to ground. For the past five years, the ICC, based in The Hague, has sought the extradition of Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide and mass killing, many related to events in Darfur. Under threat of arrest, the Sudanese president makes few foreign trips. And last weekend, when he chose to attend an African Union summit in Johannesburg, he seemed to have miscalculated.

A South African High Court prevented Mr Bashir from departing the country while it examined the ICC’s request for his extradition. But yesterday, the Pretoria government ignored its own judges and let him return home. Its decision is a blow for the ICC and for South Africa’s own hard-fought credibility on human rights.

The ICC was set up in 2002 as an international tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. There can be no argument about the case for bringing Mr Bashirto trial in the Netherlands. He is accused of propagating state-sponsored violence in Sudan, leading to the deaths of 300,000 people and forcing 2m to flee their homes.

South Africa’s decision to invite Mr Bashir to the AU summit was unusual. Most African states are wary of letting him on to their territory, recognising their obligations to the ICC indictment that apply even to a serving head of state. The Pretoria government thought it had got around the problem by guaranteeing all leaders immunity during the summit. A Pretoria court saw differently and began to consider the case for Mr Bashir’s extradition.

There can be no excuse for the government’s decision to let him go. South Africa is a founding signatory to the ICC’s Rome treaty and should abide by any arrest warrant issued by the court. It had a clear obligation to detain Mr Bashir and extradite him. Jacob Zuma’s government has done neither.

South Africa may feel able to thumb its nose at the ICC because of the weaknesses many perceive in The Hague-based institution. Its jurisdiction is spotty. A number of leading states, including the US, Russia, China, Israel and numerous Arab nations have not signed up, meaning it has no remit across much of the world. This has contributed to an unfortunate impression that it focuses unduly on pursuing African leaders to the exclusion of most others. The collapse last year of a high-profile case against President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya was particularly embarrassing in this respect.

But this is a distortion of the ICC’s record. More than 30 African states signed up to the ICC’s founding act in 1998. And of the eight African countries where ICC investigations are under way, four -Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Uganda – are member states that have proactively invited the prosecution to open investigations.

There are signs, too, that the court is having a powerful deterrent effect. The looming threat of ICC action ahead of general elections in Kenya and Nigeria in the past two years has kept politicians in check and prevented them stoking ethnic conflict. Both elections turned out to be surprisingly peaceful.

Those wanting Mr Bashir to be held to account for past atrocities have something to cheer from the events of the weekend. The Sudanese leader was forced to beat a hasty and embarrassing retreat from the summit. He will have to think harder before leaving Khartoum again. But South Africa’s actions are also a cause of dismay. If a country that aspires to moral leadership in Africa fails to stand by the ICC, there can be little hope for justice.

(c) 2015 The Financial Times Ltd.

Some of the comments posted on Alec Hogg's Facebook page
Some of the comments posted on Alec Hogg’s Facebook page
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