Zambia: Sudan President’s invitation to summit questioned

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The Zambian government has assured Sudanese president Omar Hassan
Al-Bashir, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, that he is free to attend a regional summit set for Lusaka on December 15. South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Botswana have recently argued for the legitimacy of ICC in Africa, against Libya, Eritrea, Egypt and some other countries who are not signatories to the ICC.

Ruphia Banda has invited the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, including genocide in the Darfur or western region of his country, to attend a regional summit set for Lusaka, the Zambian capital, on December 15.

Promising not to have the Sudanese president arrested, Lieutenant General Ronnie Shikapwasha, who is also Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said: “There is no question of whether Mr. Al-Bashir will be arrested or not. Zambia is a member of the African Union and the AU says he has not been found guilty on those crimes so he will not be arrested.”

Al-Bashir is hounded by two international warrants issued for his arrest by the ICC against the background of the seven-year conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. The ICC charges Al-Bashir with masterminding war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide allegedly committed in Darfur.

After inviting Bashir about a week ago to participate in the Special Summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Ruphia Banda argued that it was premature to talk about arresting Al Bashir since the Sudanese president has not confirmed whether or not he would attend the summit, reports say.

The invitation, however, has set Banda on a collision course with International Human Rights Watch groups, Zambia’s Civil Society organizations and opposition political parties urging him to ask Omar Al-Bashir to stay away. According to those against the invitation, their protest is meant to protect the southern African country’s standing with the International Community.

But, the African Union’s (AU) position not to permit all its members to cooperate with the ICC in arresting Al-Bashir has been met with mixed feelings, especially as 30 African countries, including Zambia, are signatories of the Rome Statute and therefore remain under legal obligation to arrest Al-Bashir should he set foot in their territories.

Africa’s tug of war over ICC

Meanwhile, a tug of war has ensued between African countries in recent times as the fissure between pro-ICC and anti-ICC countries deepens. This comes as a result of an AU proposition to “reiterate its decision that AU member states shall not cooperate with the ICC in the arrest and surrender of President Bashir.”

While South Africa, Ghana and Botswana have argued for the legitimacy of ICC in Africa, Libya, Eritrea, Egypt and some other countries who are not signatories to the ICC have remained unfriendly to the court’s authority on the continent. They argue that the international criminal court is obsessed with prosecuting Africans and ignores war criminals on other continents.

Although Al-Bashir has, since the ICC indictment, visited several countries without any incident his visits to ICC member countries, including Chad and Kenya, have been met with lot of questions over the authority of the international legal body. The Sudanese president has so far visited Libya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. South Africa, Uganda and Botswana have boldly declared that Al-Bashir would be arrested if he sets foot in their countries.

The United Nations estimates that as many as 300,000 civilians died as a result of violence or hardships brought on by the forced displacement of nearly 2 million Darfurians.

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