ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia--Malawi says it never withdrew from hosting the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government Summit currently underway in Ethiopia.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ephraim Chiume, speaking on the sidelines of the 21st Ordinary Session of the Executive Council made up of AU foreign ministers, told Malawi News Agency said his country had invested heavily in preparations for the meeting.
Asked about the reaction of AU member states after the summit which Malawi was supposed to host was moved to Ethiopian, he said it was incorrect to say Malawi withdrew.
“To say that Malawi withdrew is not correct,” Chiume said inside the imposing Chinese-built, new AU headquarters in the capital Addis Ababa. “It was shifted because of the challenges we faced.”
Malawi announced in June it wouldn’t host the AU Summit after the AU insisted the country had an obligation to allow Sudan’s leader Omar Al Bashir to attend the meeting. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in his country’s Darfur region. He denies the charges.
Before announcing that it wouldn’t host the meeting, Malawi had indicated Bashir would be arrested if he came to the southern African country, a signatory to the Rome Statute. There are 121 states that are party to the statute. The ICC can only automatically execute jurisdiction on crimes committed on the territory of a state party. State parties must cooperate with the court including surrendering suspects once asked to do so.
Africa is however divided on how to handle the ICC. Many African countries believe the court unfairly targets African leaders but Malawi has joined Botswana and Zambia in their pledge to perform their obligation to the ICC and arrest al Bashir if he visits their countries while South Africa has said it wouldn’t guarantee his security if he visits.
But new ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian, says the perception that the Hague-based court is only there to punish Africans is wrong.
"A lot of it is only perception," Bensouda told a recent Open Society conference in Cape Town, South Africa attended by MaraPost. "The perception is a dangerous thing; it's given to impress that the only place ICC is working is in Africa."
On rejecting Bashir coming to Malawi for the summit, Pres Joyce Banda said he was an “economic risk”.
"I respect President al-Bashir and I respect him as Head of State of Sudan but I, I'm President of Malawi, and my problem right now...my main agenda right now is Malawi's economic recovery."
Banda’s comments followed a position taken by Malawi's main Western donors, notably Great Britain and the United States, which said they wouldn’t view kindly any country that hosts al-Bashir without arresting him and handing him over to the ICC. The US Congress recently passed a resolution mandating Washington to cut off aid to any such countries.
The Bashir issue has generated a lot of interest at the AU summit among journalists and diplomats. There appears to be genuine sympathy for Malawi that it failed to host the summit because of the Sudanese leader.
Chiume said when Malawi hosted the Common Market for East and Central (COMESA) Summit and allowed Bashir to attend last year, there were repercussions.
“After the summit, Malawi was criticized by the international community for not respecting the Rome Statute to which we are signatory.”
The foreign minister said Malawi never said that Sudan wasn’t supposed to attend the meeting and he accused the AU of bowing to pressure when it decided to shift the summit from Malawi to Ethiopia. He said Malawi would raise the issue at the summit.
“I would like to put on record that as far as we are concerned, Malawi made huge investments in readiness for the summit,” he said adding that an AU assessment team to Malawi “were satisfied that the facilities were right.”
Chiume said “we don’t understand why the AU did what they did."
Botswana, which supported Malawi’s stance against Bashir, condemned the AU decision, saying it was “inconsistent with the very fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and good governance espoused by the AU and which Malawi upholds.
"It is our considered view that Malawi as a sovereign state has the right to make decisions it may deem necessary in fulfillment of her obligations under both the Rome Statute and the AU," Botswana said.
Like Malawi, Botswana says it will raise the issue at the summit.
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment.