Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Johannesburg - A South African human rights organisation is preparing to seek an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir because they suspect he could arrive in South Africa for the African Union (AU) summit taking place in Johannesburg this week.

“We are receiving information from various sources that Bashir is due to arrive in SA on Saturday. We are trying to confirm information and will prepare an urgent application to have him arrested, “ said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Executive Director, of the Johannesburg-based Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

Bashir is a fugitive from the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has issued a warrant for his arrest after indicting him for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

As a member of the ICC, South Africa is obliged to arrest him if he sets foot in this country and have twice before threatened to do that – when Bashir was expected in the country for President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in 2009 and for the Fifa World Cup in 2010.

However, the summit presents a different situation as it is a meeting of the AU which has invited Bashir and all other African leaders except Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic as it is under suspension from the AU because of a violent overthrow of the government in 2013.

The AU has also adopted an official policy which requires its member states not to cooperate with the ICC as it is regarded as biased against Africa since all its indictments to date have been against African individuals, including Bashir and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Bashir is keeping everyone guessing about whether or not he will arrive for the summit and some diplomats suspect that his officials may deliberately be leaking disinformation that he intends coming to South Africa just to cause confusion.

Sudanese officials already in Sandton, Johannesburg, for preparatory meetings told ANA on Thursday that Bashir would arrive for the heads of state and government component of the summit. The Sudan Tribune also reported on Thursday that official sources had confirmed he would come to South Africa on Saturday.

But South African officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, foreign diplomats and some human rights bodies have said they don’t believe he will come as whatever happens to him, his presence would be a major embarrassment to the South African government. They said that Sudan’s Vice President Bakri Saleh would represent Sudan instead.

However, South African government officials have avoided making any public statement about whether they have asked Bashir not to come or whether they would arrest him if he did come.

That may be because it would embarrass the AU if Pretoria stated explicitly that he was not welcome at the summit or that he would be arrested if he came.

A senior AU official said earlier this week that it would be bad for South Africa’s standing in the AU if it emerged that it was trying to prevent Bashir arriving.

There were also doubts about whether Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el Sisi would attend the summit, and possibly for similar reasons.

The Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA) has lodged a warrant for his arrest with the National Prosecuting Authority for alleged war crimes committed in the overthrow of Egypt’s elected President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 when El-Sisi was head of the military.

Egyptian officials at the AU summit said they did not know yet if El-Sisi was coming but insisted that if he did not, it would not be because of the MLA arrest warrant. One official said that the MLA also had an arrest warrant out for Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry and another senior official, but both had arrived at the summit without any hindrance.

ANA