June 19th, 2015
Weekly News Round Up (19/06/15): The Flight of Omar al-Bashir and other news
This week – Omar al-Bashir narrowly escapes ICC justice.
– Since the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Sudan’s President Omar-al Bashir back in 2009 for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the court has been struggling to secure cooperation from governments around the world in arresting Bashir and bringing him to trial at The Hague. Gwen Barnes explains in a report published in the Fordham International Law Journal, the ineffectiveness of the ICC’s enforcement mechanisms due to restrictions outlined in the Rome Statute. As a result, President Bashir has been free to travel all over Asia and Africa, visiting non-state parties and signatories that have not yet ratified the statute, without fear of arrest or prosecution.
– Despite having been asked not to attend previous African Union (AU) summits due to his outstanding indictment, on Saturday 14th June President Bashir landed in South Africa to attend the most recent summit in Johannesburg. Simultaneously, the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) brought the case for his arrest before a High Court in Pretoria, which subsequently issued a court order for Bashir to remain in the country until a decision regarding his arrest and transfer to the ICC had been decided. Hans Fabricius, the High Court Judge presiding over the case, wanted to determine whether it was legally acceptable for the government to receive al-Bashir without arresting him, as South Africa is a state party to the Rome Statute. According to the SALC, South Africa has twice threatened to arrest Bashir, once when he was expected in the country for President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in 2009, and again when he was invited to the Fifa World Cup in 2010. He attended neither event.
– On Monday 15th June the Pretoria High Court ruling ordered for President Bashir to be arrested and handed over to the ICC. By this time however, Bashir had already left the country, his plane having been cleared for take-off from the Waterkloof military base. It became apparent on Sunday night that the South African government intended to allow Bashir to leave the country, in defiance of the ruling by its own judiciary. Recent evidence suggests that it was President Jacob Zuma and a select few in his cabinet that orchestrated Bashir’s escape, later claiming that they were unaware of his wareabouts. Although a controversial decision on the part of the South African government, it should not come as much of a surprise to the international community. The Minister for Justice, Michael Masuta, had already publically stated that there was no way the authorities would arrest Bashir even if the government had to fight the arrest order in the courts. The government had also signed an agreement granting immunity to all attending the summit.
– Many believe that the ICC’s credibility as an international legal institution has steadily diminished since the indictment of Bashir in 2009, due to its failure to implement any enforcement mechanisms or pressure states to assist in his arrest. In light of this most recent unsuccessful attempt by the ICC to bring him to justice, the widening perception of the court as an essentially powerless institution has been solidified. This is reflected in the ICC’s highly fractured relationship with the AU, which has recently ruled that it will refuse to cooperate with the ICC, believing the court to be biased against Africa and African leaders accused of human rights violations. When caught between two opposing legal obligations, it has been made apparent, through recent and past actions, that the South African government will side with its fellow AU member state over its commitment to the ICC as a signatory to the Rome Statute. Not only is it willing to violate international law, but it is also prepared to disregard the decision its own judiciary, a move which many legal scholars are saying is in direct violation of its own constitution.
– Although it appears that President Bashir’s escape from justice is a defeat for the ICC, some believe that this could be considered a victory. As a result of the hard work undertaken by the SALC, and the ruling of the High Court in Pretoria, Bashir was forced to narrowly evade justice by being allowed to sneak out of the country undetected, as opposed to arrogantly dismissing his arrest warrant and freely travelling without fear of arrest or prosecution, as he has done in the previous six years since his indictment. Other legal scholars have agreed that these events have demonstrated progress in the case against Bashir, and that this should hopefully make it more difficult for him to travel to any of the other 123 signatories of the Rome Statute. Ahmed Hussain Adam, a fellow at Cornell University’s Institute for African Development, points to a potential deflation of the pan-Africanist rhetoric, and proclamation of the ICC as merely an imperialist tool, when a domestic African judiciary forcefully sides with the ICC.
News from HART
- On 16th June, Baroness Cox asked the British Government whether they had “plansto recognise the killings of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians in 1915 as genocide” – read a summary of her Oral Question here.
- HART intern, Ed Cotton, published a blog investigating whether there has been any real change for women’s rights in India following the Delhi bus gang rape.
- Baroness Cox received written answer to her question to the British Government regarding their assessment of reports that the government of Sudan is supplying weapons to the SPLM-iO. Read Baroness Anelay’s (Minister of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) answer here.
- The ceasefire declared last week in the Kokang area of northern Shan State has been broken.
- Heavy fighting continued between Kachin rebels and the Burmese military near Hpakant, displacing yet more villagers. Aid workers claim that the Burmese Government is preventing them from accessing the affected areas.
- Australian company SMEC, hired to carry out environmental and social impact assessments on the proposed Tasang (Montong) Dam on the Salween river, has responded to protests from local villagers who fear the project could damage their livelihoods. SMEC claims that it has had “limited success” in meetings with local community groups. SMEC maintains that thefinal decision as to whether the building of dam will go ahead rests with the Burmese Government. Meanwhile, Shan villagers have provided photographs that they allege show tunnels already being constructed, before the consultation period has ended.
- The subject of a bold new documentary detailing life for LGBT people in Burma has warned of continuing human rights abuses in Burma.
- A police inspector who framed 4 Dalit men in a murder case has been suspended and the Dalit men acquitted.
- The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is to write a new report on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabkh and visited Armenia for talks with Armenian officials. However, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian criticised PACE’s decision to write the report, saying it could harm the peace process.
- Meanwhile, the OSCE is continuing to send monitors to the “contact line” between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
- Following President Buhari’s attendance at the G7 Summit in Germany, western superpowers continued their commitment to fight the Islamist militia group Boko Haram. In a letter to the US Congress, President Obama pledged “the fight against terrorism and violent extremism will have to remain the priority for the whole international community”.
- Following two deadly attacks in Chad’s capital N’Djamena earlier this week (death toll rumours range from 23-33), Chad responded on Thursday with air strikes targeted at suspected Boko Haram locations in neighbouring Nigeria. While Boko Haram have not yet claimed responsibility for the attack in N’Djamena, observers estimate the attack is a result of Chad becoming a key actor in the fight against Boko Haram, and N’Djamena being the headquarter of the regional country coalition (including Benin, Cameroon and Niger), which plans to start its operations by the end of next month.
- As a response to the increasing violence in northern Nigeria, this year’s Ramadan has commenced on June 18th, with President Buhari appealing to Nigeria’s Muslim population to “pray for the return of peace, love and prosperity to the country”.
- On Thursday 17th June the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) seized print runs of al-Tayar and al-Jareeda newspapers without stating any reasons as to why. This is part of a recent offensive against the Sudanese media by NISS, with 10 newspapers being suspended last month in connection with a story on cases of child sex abuse.
- Radio Dabanga has spoken to Darfuri refugees who have expressed their gratitude for the attempt of the South African high court, and insist that Bashir will face justice ‘no matter how long it takes’.
- A devastating UNICEF report has revealed horrific human rights violations being carried against children in South Sudan. As many as 129 children have been killed in Unity State in the past three weeks, with survivors claiming that boys have been castrated and left to bleed to death, girls as young as 8 have been gang raped and murdered and others have been thrown alive into burning buildings.
- The UN has severely criticised South Sudan President Salva Kiir for significantly hindering the peace process in the country. The government have reportedly blocked attack helicopters and surveillance drones, and declared that any UN personnel caught taking photos will be considered as spies.
- International legal observers, as well as national human rights activists, lawyers and government officials, have taken issue with the recent two years extension of Uganda’s Amnesty Act of 2000, which grants amnesty to rebels who decide to cease violence and lay down their arms. While the act deems to encourage long lasting peace and crush numerous rebel movements, most prominently Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) or the Allied Democractic Forces (ADF), experts are concerned that its newest provision, which exempts rebels who voluntarily return to a rebel group after having left it at an earlier stage, might in fact diminish the willingness of rebels to resign and hence exacerbate the conflict further.
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