South Africa fails to hold Omar al-Bashir on ICC warrant
So, Omar al-Bashir has flown back to Khartoum, “despite an order barring him from leaving while a Pretoria court decided whether to arrest him on charges issued by the International Criminal Court” (BBC)
The choice for Pretoria was crystal clear: to stand up and defend Nelson Mandela’s hard-earned commitment to human rights or to defy direct appeals from the ICC prosecutor and the United Nations secretary-general and let a fugitive from justice fly unchallenged out of the country.
That South Africa decided to invest so much diplomatic capital in choosing the latter will be hugely worrying for the ICC, because it means quite simply that the African country which should be the most powerful backer of its campaign against impunity has publicly abandoned the cause.
Some may point to the ICC and say, here’s another institution that cannot fulfill it’s mandate, a charge I’ve seen leveled at the UN Security Council often enough. But how is it failing?
It’s failing because, like all international institutions, it is only as strong as its’ members’ commitment, and that commitment is often lacking for a variety of reasons – economic self-interest, power politics, regional rivalries, home issues, the list goes on. States are complicated.
How great a blow is al-Bashir’s “escape” to the ICC’s credibility? Is it “finished”, as he claims? The short answer is no. It is currently building a new multimillion-euro headquarters to show that, as an institution, it’s here to stay.
The real long-term danger is more of the same: inadequate backing by the UN Security Council and the international community, and, as a result, “death by a thousand cuts”.
As Terry Pratchett once wrote, “There is no Justice, there is just us”. If we don’t strive to do the right thing, it won’t happen by itself.