‘Malawi should be clear on al-Bashir’

Malawi is expected to host the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government meeting in July. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir, facing a warrant of arrest by the International Criminal Court, is among the list of attendees. Malawi, as state party to ICC, is supposed to enforce the arrest, a view supported by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) International. George Mhango finds out more from Tiseke Kasambara, HRW’s senior researcher Africa Division.

Q: Do you find the AU summit worthwhile?

A: Yes, the AU summit is worthwhile as it is an institution that is meant to address issues that are of relevance to the continent, and how African governments can deal with them. These include issues of governance, security, democracy, human rights, the economy and the environment.

It is, however, of serious concern that the AU, in July 2010, called on AU member states not to cooperate with the ICC in arresting Al-Bashir. The calls for non-cooperation run contrary to ICC state parties’ obligations to cooperate with the ICC under the Rome statute, the treaty that established the court.

Q: Why is HRW interested in Malawi to have Al Bashir arrested?

A: President Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for serious crimes committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. The ICC has issued two arrest warrants for Al-Bashir to answer charges of crimes against humanity and genocide. Malawi, as a State party to the ICC, has an obligation to arrest Al Bashir and hand him over to the ICC.

Q: Should government allow Al Bashir to come to Malawi for AU summit?

A: Malawi should make it clear to Al-Bashir that he is not welcome in the country or he faces arrest if he comes to Malawi.

Q: What is your take on the monetary value Malawi is going to spend on Al Bashir considering calls that he should not be allowed to come or be arrested?

A: Human Rights Watch cannot comment on the monetary value that would be spent on Al Bashir. The matter is clear—as a State party to the ICC, Malawi should arrest Al-Bashir if he enters Malawian territory.

Q: Other countries have refused to arrest him, why the pressure on Malawi?

A: Human Rights Watch has called on all ICC state parties to arrest Al-Bashir if he enters their territory. We have also criticised those ICC state parties that allowed him to visit their territory without arrest such as Chad, Kenya and Djibouti. A number of anticipated visits to ICC member and non-member countries have been cancelled following public outcry. These include visits to Central African Republic, Kenya, Turkey, Zambia and Malaysia. Other countries, such as South Africa, have publicly indicated that Al-Bashir will be arrested if he enters their territory.

Q: Are you optimistic that this time around, Malawi will comply?

A: We hope that Malawi will respect its obligations as a State party to the ICC to ensure that Al Bashir is handed over to the ICC to answer charges of crimes against humanity and genocide, if he comes to the country.

Q: What would happen if Malawi fails to arrest him this time again?

A: In December, the ICC ruled that Malawi, as an ICC state party, had failed to cooperate with the ICC by allowing Al-Bashir to visit in October 2011. The judges referred Malawi’s non-cooperation to the UN Security Council and ICC Assembly of State parties. Further action or measures could, therefore, be taken if Malawi were to fail to arrest Al-Bashir again.

Q: Why can’t HRW deal with him directly instead of depending on governments?

A: Human Rights Watch is a research and advocacy organisation and not a criminal court.  The ICC, as an international criminal court, relies on State parties to enforce its arrest warrants and not non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch.

Q: What do you want to achieve if Al Bashir is arrested?

A: This is about justice for the people of Darfur. The ICC through its investigations found that Al-Bashir, as president of Sudan, is implicated in heinous crimes including genocide. He, therefore, must answer these charges before the courts. This is about ending impunity for serious crimes and abuses.

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