Promoting impunity

LAST week 53 African heads of state and government met in Sirte, Libya, for the 13th summit of the African Union (AU).

Among the issues they deliberated upon was the setting up of a federal government for the whole of Africa.

They also discussed the warrant of arrest issued to Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As expected most of the African leaders closed ranks and rallied behind al-Bashir. We were not surprised by that charade.

In a communiqué issued after the end of the summit the African leaders denounced the ICC for issuing the warrant of arrest for al-Bashir.

The African leaders vowed not to co-operate with the court based at The Hague.

There was a sentiment among the leaders that the ICC was being “too hard” on Africa’s leaders.

They said the ICC seemed preoccupied with human rights abuses in Africa while neglecting rights abuses elsewhere.

They could have a point.

In fact, of all the four cases that the ICC has investigated since its formation seven years ago, all of them are in Africa.

However, this does not override the fact that African leaders need to act against human rights violators in their midst.

There were of course a few countries that fiercely opposed the move to shield al-Bashir from facing justice at The Hague.

Sudan’s neighbour, Chad, and Botswana are said to have opposed the summit decision.

We wish to put it on record that we also do not agree with the AU position regarding al-Bashir and other like-minded dictators.

We think the decision was misplaced and fundamentally at odds with the principles of good governance and accountability.

Leaders must be held accountable for their actions.

Al-Bashir stands accused of serious human rights violations. He must face justice or have his day in court.

The Sudanese leader is accused by human rights defenders of masterminding a brutal crackdown in the Darfur region of Sudan that has killed over 300 000 people.

The brutal crackdown has also displaced over 2.7 million people.

These are serious charges.

The government in Khartoum has fiercely rejected the charges claiming only 10 000 people have been killed in the conflict.

We find it quite odd that the majority of Africa’s leaders would rally behind a discredited despot who stands accused of murdering his people.

We cannot fathom why African leaders would want to ignore the shocking atrocities in the Darfur and give the despot some reprieve that he does not deserve.

The crisis in the Darfur is of such huge proportions that African leaders cannot afford to ignore it.

This is why we think the decision last weekend to completely shield al-Bashir from facing justice stinks.

We are aware that former South African president Thabo Mbeki has been dispatched to Sudan to push for peace in the Darfur.

However, African leaders need to send a message to dictators like al-Bashir that they cannot butcher their own people and get away with it.

The era of impunity is long gone.

As it stands our African leaders last week sank to new depths when they shamelessly decided to shield al-Bashir from facing justice.

Protecting a ruthless dictator accused of butchering his people promotes impunity and does little to promote accountability.

It is for this reason that we wish to condemn the AU decision as misguided and ill-thought out.

In fact the decision smacked of a cover up by African leaders afraid that they also will one day be called to account for their acts of brutality.

These are the leaders who have skeletons in their own cupboards.

We think the AU decision was an embarrassment and a sad development for the struggle for peace and democracy on the continent.

Democracy and the rule of law are universal concepts. We, as Africans, have a right to demand that our leaders respect human rights.

We have a right to hold our leaders accountable for their actions.

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