Issuing an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state should not be encouraged because it violates the principle of African solidarity and state sovereignty, the African Union chairman has said.
Prof. Bingu Wa Mutharika, also Malawian President, received loud applause from hundreds of delegates and some 40 African heads of states at the opening of the 15th Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit in Kampala, when he criticised arrest warrants against Sudanese President, Omar al Bashir. “To subject a head of state to an arrest warrant is to violate the principle of sovereignty,” President Mutharika said.
Two senior British lawyers who are part of the observer group at the summit, concurred with the AU boss over the arrest warrants. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC and Rodney Dixon, told journalists at the weekend that indictments against President Bashir are challengeable in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against Bashir in 2009, accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity during a counter-insurgency campaign in the western Darfur region.
Earlier this month, the court added genocide to the charges. But according to the attorneys, who said they had been hired by African Crisis Relief (ACR), an NGO in Sudan, to re-investigate the Bashir case, someone should ask where the UN Security Council gets power to refer to the ICC a case of a non-member state.
Sudan is not signatory to the ICC, implying that it has no binding legal obligations binding it to the court. Mr Dixon said if the ICC successfully takes action against Bashir, it will set a dangerous precedent for other leaders. “The ICJ is the biggest world court under the UN system, and a declaration from there will shield other presidents from such actions by the ICC.”
Sir Nice on the other hand said Bashir’s case should be challenged under outgoing ICC Prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo, so that ‘the new prosecutor does not inherit them.’ “Giving the ICC prosecutor [power] to act on a serving president is equivalent to giving the prosecutor powers to decide regime change for countries. It is such a dangerous course of action,” he said.
Mr Mohamed Ansari, who heads ACR, said his organisation is lobbying the AU and individual African states to challenge the warrants against Bashir in the ICJ. “We are very happy with the responses so far got,” he said.