The African Union, whose members decided three years ago not to honor an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been forced to find a new site for its regional summit in July after the small southern African nation of Malawi said it would refuse entry to the Sudanese leader. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity for his actions in Darfur.
The summit, scheduled July 9-16, will now be held at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The country is not a party to the Rome Statute, the governing treaty of the International Criminal Court, so it is not compelled to honor the arrest warrant for Bashir.
The action by Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda – one of two female elected heads of government on the continent – comes just as another African woman, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, prepares to take over as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague. (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the other head of government, in Liberia.)
Bensouda has been critical of the widely held perception in Africa that the court is pursuing only Africans. Most of the cases, in fact, have been brought to the court by African leaders.
Two other African nations, Botswana and Zambia, have recently warned that Bashir would not be welcome and could be arrested. Several other countries, including Kenya, Chad and Djibouti, have allowed entry to Bashir in contravention of the Rome Statute treaty. They have been referred to the Security Council as violators.
Banda’s predecessor as president, Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in office early this year, allowed Bashir to visit Malawi in October 2011. Aid to the country had already been cut by donors alleging repressive domestic policies by the president.
Banda, who took office in April, was reported to be concerned about the possibility of further aid cuts as well as the precedent she would set if Bashir, an accused perpetrator of genocide, were to attend the summit in Lilongwe, the Malawi capital. Though some members of Parliament were critical, Banda was backed in her decision by the leader of the political opposition.
The African Union announced the decision by Malawi to withdraw its invitation to host the summit in a single-paragraph communiqué without comment.
In Malawi, Raphael Tenthani, a columnist for the Maravi Post, wrote that it would not be surprising if Banda were treated with “disdain” by other African leaders – except for Ian Khama of Botswana and Michael Sata of Zambia, who have taken similar stands.
“But Mama Joyce needs not to despair,” Tenthani wrote. “She has announced her arrival on the stage of the confused African politics. If I were her advisor, I would tell her to skip the Addis summit in protest. She also has to lobby leaders like Khama and Sata to do the same in order to drive the point home.”
Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.