Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Less than a year after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was officially welcomed to Malawi, he now finds himself persona non grata - thanks to the principled stand of the country's new president, Joyce Banda. And it's not just al-Bashir but also the African Union (AU) summit that the Malawian government has now refused to host - rather than bow to the AU's utterly unprincipled ultimatum that al-Bashir be allowed to attend.
When Banda became president in April, she indicated that Malawi would continue to host the AU summit as planned but she also made clear that al-Bashir would not be welcome at the summit given his pending International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur - a position that put Malawi's international obligations as a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC before its duties to the AU.
Local, regional and international civil society organisations have been quick to congratulate President Banda for standing up to the AU's pressure.
“Malawian President Joyce Banda took a strong stance in support of justice despite tough pressure from the African Union,” said Undule Mwakasungula, director of the Malawi Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation. “Malawi has done right by Darfur victims today.”
Alan Wallis, international justice lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), added that “Malawi joins an increasing number of countries that have declined to welcome al-Bashir. More states should follow Malawi’s example.”
While some countries have allowed al-Bashir on their territory - such as Kenya, Chad and Djibouti - the list of countries where he is no longer welcome is growing. Already following outcries from African civil society groups, Zambia, Central African Republic and Uganda have cancelled planned visits. In addition, countries such as South Africa and Botswana have made clear that al-Bashir is not welcome on their soil.
“Civil society groups across the African continent have repeatedly urged governments to arrest - not host - al-Bashir,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “African activists have called for their governments to stand with victims, not with suspected war criminals.”
The AU summit will now be hosted in Addis Ababa. It will be fascinating to see what happens when Banda and al-Bashir run into each other in the AU's corridors of power.