Mixed Reactions To SA Court Ruling On Al Bashir

There have been mixed reactions on South African government’s failed bid to appeal a decision that it acted unconstitutionally with regards to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s departure from South Africa earlier this year.

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has ruled that it does not believe that there are reasonable prospects that the government’s case can succeed in another court. Government has said it will be reviewing the decision.

The crux of the matter is that the court had ordered that Bashir – who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court  for war crimes – be stopped from leaving the country when he attended the African Union Summit.

This in line with the Rome Statue – of which South Africa is a signatory. This did not happen with various departments colluding to spirit him out of the country.

Government argued that it was constrained by issues related to the country’s foreign policy. Justice Ministry spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga says the State is reviewing its options.  

“That is not what we had expected given the firm view that we had that the issues of public international law needed to be ventilated. However, we will have to reflect as government on all the issues that have been raised in the judgement in a bid to determine whether the judgement is appealable and the only way to do that is to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal. But that will have to be preceded by a substantive affidavit where we are laying down all the grounds where we believe that the court has erred if we are to take that decision but at this stage we will have to reflect on the judgement.”

The ANC has urged government to go to the Supreme Court of Appeal to overturn the decision.

The party has been vocal on the issue – going as far as to suggest that government should review its membership of International Criminal Court (ICC) – which many African leaders have accused of targeting the continent unfairly.

The ICC has requested that Pretoria explain itself on the al-Bashir matter, an issue that President Jacob Zuma said at a foreign policy briefing on Tuesday, the state would be looking into.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa says the ruling party does not agree with the decision.

“We think if this decision is left not appealed and is not corrected, we think it may set a very bad precedent but also for the African Union because AU on its own has got the same status in our view as any other multi-national institution. And therefore…in terms of our obligation to the ICC and our obligation to the AU…we need to appeal the ruling because it undermines the AU as a multi-national institution.”

A number of opposition parties say they are delighted. 

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) James Selfe says: “We believe that government was out of order in firstly inviting president Omar al Bashir to arrive in South Africa and secondly, to consciously decide to break the law. We are very confident that when the matter is determined in court later this month that the court will once more find against the government for failing in its constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law.”

The Congress of the People (COPE) has lauded the country’s courts, saying that they inspire confidence in ordinary people by performing their duties without fear or favour.

COPE spokesperson, Dennis Bloem, has urged government not to continue to pursue the matter.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre which took the state to court says should government approach the Supreme Court of Appeal, they will continue to fight.