ICC Al-Bashir case: South Africa Failed to Comply but is not Referred to ASP/UNSC

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the 25th AU Summit in South Africa ©KIM LUDBROOK / EPA

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the 25th AU Summit in South Africa ©KIM LUDBROOK / EPA

On Thursday 6 July 2017, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) found that South Africa failed to comply with its obligations under the Rome Statute in the Omar Al-Bashir case. The former President of Sudan had visited South Africa on 13 June 2015 to attend the 25th Assembly of the African Union.  The South African government then took no steps to arrest Omar Al Bashir, claiming he benefited from immunity as a head of State. In March 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa had ruled the government had shown unlawful conduct “in failing to take steps to arrest and detain, for surrender to the International Criminal Court, the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir.”

The ICC found that South Africa failed to comply with its obligations by not arresting and surrendering Omar Al-Bashir to the Court while he was on South African territory between 13 and 15 June 2015. The Court considered that immunities did not apply as Sudan was in an analogous situation to those of States Parties to the Statute as a result of the UNSC’s resolution, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, triggering the Court’s jurisdiction in the situation in Darfur and imposing on Sudan the obligation to cooperate fully with the Court.

However, the Chamber considered that it is not warranted to refer South Africa’s non-compliance to the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) or the Security Council of the United Nations (UNSC). This decision was motivated on the facts that South Africa was the first State Party to seek from the Court a final legal determination on the extent of its obligations to execute a request for arrest and surrender of Omar Al-Bashir and that South Africa’s domestic courts have already found South Africa to be in breach of its obligations under its domestic legal framework.

For the full decision, click here.

Immunities and International Crimes – The Al-Bashir Conundrum

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the 25th AU Summit in South Africa ©KIM LUDBROOK / EPA

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

On 13 October 2016, Professor Guénaël Mettraux and Professor John Dugard filed an amicus curiae brief before the Constitutional Court of South Africa In the matter between the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional  Development and the Southern African Litigation Center (“President Al-Bashir case”).

The proceeding are critically important to resolving the tension between a State’s obligation to respect the sovereign immunities of foreign state officials (including heads of states) and that State’s obligation to cooperate with the ICC.

In resolving this tension, Profs Mettraux and Dugard have laid down a series of important principles and effectively mapped a way out of the problem:

1. Immunities and international crimes – A brief historical overview

i. Traditional international law used to grant absolute immunity to heads of state in respect of all acts, commercial and criminal.

ii. Over time, international law started to carve out a number of exceptions to that general and absolutist principle (in particular in respect of commercial acts). This includes an exception to immunities as a defence and/or bar to jurisdiction when faced with international crimes charges (see next).

2. A customary international law exclusion of immunities as a defence and jurisdictional bar to international crimes prosecution

iii. Since at least the end of the Second World War and criminal prosecutions pertaining to that conflict, customary international law excludes the possibility for a Head of State (and other State officials) to rely on his immunity as a defence or as an objection to the jurisdiction of a court before which he appears on charges of international crimes (war crimes; crimes against humanity; or genocide).

iv. This is so whether the jurisdiction seeking to try him is a domestic or an international one. The loss of immunity in such a case is determined, not by the – national or international – character of the tribunal trying such a defendant, but by the international character of the underlying offence with which he is charged.

v. In the context of that exclusionary rule, none of the relevant instruments or relevant incidents of state practice draw a distinction between official and private acts of state officials. All conduct amounting to an international crime are encapsulated into the general exclusionary rule. Nor do these draw a distinction between sitting and former state officials. The exclusion of immunities as a defence and jurisdictional bar is absolute in its effect and pertains to any individual.

vi. Article 27 of the Statute of the ICC recognizes and gives effect to that general principle in the context of proceedings before the ICC. As a jurisdictional provision (dealing with one aspect of the Court’s jurisdiction ratione personae), Article 27 only deals with the effect (or, rather, the absence of effect) of an official position and related immunities on the jurisdiction of the Court itself. It does not regulate, nor purports to regulate, the effect of these immunities on the jurisdiction of any other court. Continue reading

South Africa “disgraceful” for Not Arresting Al-Bashir

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa ruled the government had shown unlawful conduct “in failing to take steps to arrest and detain, for surrender to the International Criminal Court, the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir.” The Appeal Court has ruled that South Africa had therefore failed to comply with its obligations under the Rome Statute and section 10 of the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 27 of 2002.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the 25th AU Summit in South Africa ©KIM LUDBROOK / EPA

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the 25th AU Summit in South Africa ©KIM LUDBROOK / EPA

Omar Al Bashir visited South Africa on 13 June 2015 to attend the 25th Assembly of the African Union.  The South African government took no steps to arrest Omar Al Bashir, claiming he benefited from immunity as a head of State. The South African Litigation Centre brought in response an urgent application on Sunday 14 June to the High Court of Pretoria, “seeking orders declaring the failure to take steps to arrest President Al Bashir to be in breach of the Constitution and to compel the Government to cause President Al Bashir to be arrested and surrendered to the ICC to stand trial pursuant to the two warrants.” While the Government opposed the application and sought to obtain a postponed until the next day, the High Court made an order prohibiting President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan from leaving the South African territory “until a final order is made in this application, and the respondents are directed to take all necessary steps to prevent him from doing so.” When an emergency order was eventually obtained the following day from the High Court ordering Bashir’s arrest, government lawyers admitted he had flown out of the country just a few hours earlier. Continue reading

South Africa Plans to Leave the International Criminal Court

South African ParliamentThe African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s governing political party, wants the country to begin the process of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC) because it believes the ICC has lost its direction.

“The principles that led us to be members [of the ICC] remain valid and relevant […] however the ICC has lost its direction unfortunately and is no longer pursuing that principle of an instrument that is fair for everybody,” said on Sunday the party’s international relations subcommittee chairperson Obed Bapela.

There were a handful of powerful countries which refused to be ICC members, yet they still had the power to refer matters to the court, Bapela said.

He added that South Africa would continue to carry the flag of human rights and an end to genocide.

The matter is already on the agenda for the upcoming Assembly of State Parties meeting which would be attended by all ICC members in November. It will also be tabled at the African Union summit to be held in January.

This debate arose as the South African government faces criticism for ignoring a South African High Court order to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir when he was in Johannesburg for an African Union summit last June.

The ICC had issued a warrant of arrest for Bashir, wanting him to stand trial on charges of war crimes and genocide.

The High Court ruled that government had acted unconstitutionally when it did not arrest him.

Bashir Flight Leaves ICC in Stalemate

By Dr Miša Zgonec-Rožej*

Omar Al Bashir

Omar Al Bashir

South Africa’s failure to arrest the Sudanese president is the latest incident in a troubled relationship between the court and African states.

Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir was allowed to leave South Africa on 15 June  in defiance of a temporary order issued a day earlier by the High Court in Pretoria, which required South African authorities to prevent him from leaving the country until an application submitted by a human rights group was heard by the court. Just hours after Bashir’s departure from South Africa after attending the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg, the court ordered that President Al-Bashir be arrested and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As a state party to the ICC, South Africa thereby breached its obligation under the Rome Statute to execute the ICC arrest warrant issued against the president. This highlights an ongoing problem for the ICC: without states’ cooperation, and lacking its own enforcement mechanisms, the court is forced to leave cases suspended indefinitely.

 Lack of immunity

President Bashir has been sought by the ICC for his alleged involvement in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the conflict in Darfur.  Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC, but the ICC has jurisdiction as a consequence of a 2005 referral to it by the UN Security Council of the situation in Darfur. The African Union, however, has continually opposed the prosecution by the ICC of heads of states during their term of office. The AU has requested the suspension of proceedings against President Bashir and called upon AU members not to arrest and surrender him. Continue reading

South African Court Grants Order Preventing al-Bashir’s Departure

Omar Al Bashir

Omar Al Bashir

Pretoria High Court Judge Hans Fabricius has granted the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) a temporary order to prevent Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from leaving South Africa until the urgent application to have him arrested has been heard.

The application has been brought by the SALC on behalf of a group of human rights organisations.

Yesterday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has called on South Africa to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who is in the country for an African Union (AU) summit.

Omar al-Bashir Bashir is wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over the conflict in Darfur.