Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 14 June 2015

Double standards of the West should not cloud our outrage at al-Bashir’s visit to SA

Africa is a great continent but it is made great by the resilience and courage of the African people. Africa is so much more than the rolling hills, the rivers, the valleys and the desserts. We know all too well that our Africa has felt the brunt of suffering and inequality and we know that we have sound reasons to question those who now wish to question our path and that of our leaders.

We have a right to question their motives and to criticise their newfound belief in human rights, democracy and equality when they for centuries meted out slavery, oppression, genocide and exploitation on our ancestors and far beyond our borders.

However, this outrage and disgust with the legacy of the West should not distract us from the fact that Omar al-Bashir, who is President of Sudan, presided over the death of 400,000 people and the displacement of more than two million, who were forced to flee their homes, over the past decade.

We should be outraged by this fact. The fact that our leaders often kill us – they kill our brothers and sisters. We must not let our outrage and distaste with the double standards of the West distract us from the fact that Mr al-Bashir and his government unleashed a brutality that destabilised an entire region.

Our own leaders have hurt Africa and its people on far too many occasions but that does not mean that we should forget what the West has done. It is true that we have also encountered liberators who have then turned into dictators. These brutal leaders have often destroyed our hope that change is possible.

The problem is all of this has bubbled up onto our South African shores as the African Union convened in Johannesburg, and more accurately in Sandton, for a summit focussed around women’s empowerment and development.

We cannot pretend that South Africa is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa, as a signatory to the founding treaty, has an international and legal obligation to assist the ICC to carry out arrests. Mr al-Bashir is one such person and is accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide during the Darfur conflict.

The stakes are high and the diplomatic headache all came to a head when a South African High Court on Sunday issued an interim order providing that Mr Omar al-Bashir was restricted from leaving South Africa until a judge hears an application calling for his arrest.

To add fuel to the fire, the ICC has asked the South African authorities “to spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants” but this is where the fun and games begin.

Social media erupted in the early hours of Sunday morning with news that the court case would be launched. After Judge Hans Fabricuis granted the interim relief, the back peddling had already started, and the double speak had already started.

The justified criticism of the West was peddled and those who do so are right when they criticise the ICC and the fact that the United States of America is not a signatory to the ICC and as a result has “contracted out” of the jurisdiction of the ICC. The characters of George W Bush and Tony Blair were also rolled out to silence those who want justice.

Often doing the right thing is not easy especially in a world that is full of nuance, context and the current hypocritical geopolitical framework. Mr al-Bashir’s government armed and enabled militia to reign down terror on the people of Sudan and in the process caused the death and destruction of our brothers and sisters. We can acknowledge this fact while we criticise the hypocritical nature of the ICC and the perceived idea that African leaders are targeted while Western leaders are spared.

We cannot let this outrage blind us from the reality that Mr al-Bashir is responsible for the death and suffering of millions (of our brothers and sisters) and that he is now on South African soil and we as a country have a legal and international obligation to effect his arrest.

There are many traditions on this great continent. There are traditions that we should be proud of and then there are other traditions that we must seek to change. One such tradition is the blind allegiance and loyalty that we wish to dole out to our leaders. This tradition of blind loyalty, which many use as a shield to blatant wrongdoing, retards progress and accountability. We as Africans must stand against this tendency. We are better than this and we cannot allow this tradition to continue defining our future.

Oddly, the African National Congress (ANC) issued a statement on Sunday afternoon stating that the ICC “is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended – being a court of last resort for the prosecution of crimes against humanity”.

At this point, I must remind the ANC that in last year’s general election they secured a 62% majority and were returned as the Government of the Republic. In fact, the ANC must be reminded that they have been the governing party of the Republic since 1994 and that they made the decision to sign the Rome Statute and although they may today believe that the ICC “is not longer useful”, they made the choice to accept the international obligation that has resulted in this particular diplomatic episode and showdown.

The tradition of selective amnesia and the convenience of choosing whether to abide by the provisions of the law are not traditions that we should accept. We must guard against this idea. We cannot allow the disregard of the rule of law. Should the ANC or rather should the South African Government believe that the ICC is no longer appropriate then it should revoke its member status and seek to work on other methods to hold leaders accountable. It is disingenuous to simple speak about these things, when convenient, but rather our Government should fulfil its (existing) obligations as imposed by our Constitution and legal framework (which includes international law).

Sadly, it is unlikely that Mr al-Bashir will be arrested. We will tussle, there will be some further back peddling, more double speak and more innuendos and rallying calls against imperialism and the West.

However, this does not solve our problem my brothers and sisters. This does not solve the problem that Mr al-Bashir is responsible for the death of over 400,000 Africans and that justice is still not within our reach.

Surely, this is a tradition that we cannot simply accept? We owe our brothers and sisters so much more. We must be resilient and courageous for those who are no longer able to speak. We must speak for them. DM