538 30/08/2012 A man holds up placards and shouts slogans protesting against the visit of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who was due to speak at the Discover Leadership Summit at The Sandton Convention Centre. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee

Peter Fabricius

Foreign Editor

Muslim protesters would not be acting lawfully if they tried to effect a citizen’s arrest on former British prime minister Tony Blair in Joburg today for alleged crimes against humanity, says Wits University international law professor Lilian Chenwi.

Ganief Hendricks, president of the Al-Jama-ah Muslim political party, has said his party will hold a protest against Blair’s presence at the Discovery Invest leadership conference in Sandton today, because of his support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which caused the deaths of many Iraqi citizens.

He added that he hoped some of the protesters would try to effect a citizen’s arrest on Blair for committing crimes against humanity.

Legal experts said SA’s International Criminal Court (ICC) Act was the only law that might allow SA to prosecute foreigners for crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide committed outside SA even where no South Africans are involved.

But Chenwi said the act had no provision for a citizen to arrest a suspect. Only a state could decide to prosecute someone under the act and issue a warrant for their arrest.

Four years ago the Southern Africa Litigation Centre asked the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to investigate alleged crimes against humanity under the ICC Act against top officials of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party, who had been accused of torturing opposition officials.

The NPA sat on the case for almost four years and then decided not to prosecute. Eventually, two months ago, a Pretoria High Court judge ordered the NPA to do the investigation but the NPA has said it will appeal against the judgment.

Last month, however, the NPA decided, after just two months, to launch an investigation under the same act against deposed Malagasy president Marc Ravlomanana for alleged complicity in the fatal shooting of several protesters in Madagascar, in 2009, shortly before he was ousted.

Another legal expert said that under SA’s criminal procedure law, a citizen could only arrest someone who had committed a schedule one crime in his or her presence.

Schedule one encompasses the most serious crimes such as murder and rape. But Chenwi stressed that this right did not apply to international crimes such as the one Al-Jama-ah accuses Blair of committing.

Another legal expert said that if a citizen wrongfully arrested someone, that citizen would be liable for prosecution for assault or abduction.