Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, deserves a medal for shrugging off pressure from the AU to allow Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in to her country for next month’s AU summit. Having signed the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute, Malawi is obliged to bring fugitives like him to justice. He has been indicted by the ICC for genocide and war crimes in Darfur.
But Banda’s predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, dishonoured his country’s ICC obligations last year by allowing Bashir into the country. He died in April and Banda took over, with a refreshing new approach. She announced that Bashir would not be welcome at the AU summit. The AU responded by telling Malawi that if it did not admit Bashir, the AU would take the summit elsewhere. She chose to honour ICC obligations.
The millions of African victims of the kind of grave crimes the ICC prosecutes will feel grateful to Malawi. By contrast, they have been betrayed by the AU’s adolescent and self-serving attitude. The AU has instructed its members not to co-operate with the ICC because it says the court is picking on Africans as all its prosecutions so far have been of Africans. It also complained that the ICC’s indictment of Bashir interferes with the AU’s efforts to resolve the Sudan crisis.
This is nonsense. Even the incoming ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, herself a Gambian, has rejected the argument that the ICC is targeting Africa. And 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 was evidently an unfortunate element of competing pressure in Malawi’s decision, as Western powers had threatened to withhold aid if it allowed Bashir into the country. Yet the decision was still right. Like the recent conviction of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, it laid another solid brick in the wall that is slowly being built in Africa against impunity for atrocities.