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MALAWI’S new President Joyce Banda shrugged off pressure from the African Union to allow Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir into her country for next month’s AU summit.
He has been indicted by the ICC for genocide and war crimes in Darfur, and, having signed the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute, Malawi is obliged to co-operate with the court in bringing him to justice.
Banda’s predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, dishonoured his country’s ICC obligations last year by allowing Bashir into the country. Mutharika died in April and Banda took over, with a new approach to the ICC and other issues.
She announced Bashir would not be welcome at the AU summit. The AU responded by telling Malawi that if Bashir was not admitted, the AU would take the summit elsewhere.
Banda chose not to host the summit rather than dishonour Malawi’s ICC obligations.
Her decision may have been influenced by threats from Western powers to withhold aid if she allowed Bashir into the country. But whatever the case, she struck a blow for African victims of the kind of grave crimes which the ICC prosecutes.
In contrast, the AU has instructed its members not to co-operate with the ICC because it says the court is picking on Africans as all of its prosecutions so far have been of Africans.
The AU has also complained that the ICC’s indictment of Bashir would interfere with AU efforts to resolve the Sudan crisis.
But there is no evidence that the indictment of Bashir has retarded peace efforts in Sudan. Indeed, Khartoum allowed South Sudan to secede after the ICC indictment.
There is merit in the argument that the ICC is targeting Africa and ignoring the perpetrators of war and other crimes elsewhere, though the court’s incoming chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, herself a Gambian, has denied this. But that is no reason to let atrocities in Africa go unpunished.
Banda’s decision, like the recent conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, is another solid brick in the wall that is slowly being built in Africa against impunity for these crimes.