Rights groups working with the ICC have applauded Lilongwe for denying Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir entry into Malawi during the AU Summit, which has since been moved to Ethiopia.
The groups have also commended Malawi for agreeing to the cancellation of the summit in Lilongwe.
Comprising eight human rights groups and other support organisations working in Africa, the network says Malawiâ€™s stand shows it sides with Darfur victims who are at the centre of al-Bashirâ€™s International Criminal Court (ICC) cases.
“Malawi Government [has] shown strong support for victims of international crimes by deciding not to be the host of the AU Summit if President al-Bashir of Sudan is allowed to attend,” reads the statement whose signatories include Malawiâ€™s Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR).
The statement says despite the AU insisting that al-Bashir be allowed to attend the summit, scheduled to take place from July 9 to 16 this year: “President Joyce Banda took a strong stance in support of justice despite tough pressure from the African Union. Malawi has done right by [supporting] Darfur victims today.”
Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. He has been at the centre of controversy as Malawi prepared to host the summit. Last October, Malawi, under president Bingu wa Mutharika who died of cardiac arrest on April 5 2012, hosted al-Bashir during the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Summit.
When Banda ascended to the presidency, she indicated Malawi would still host the AU Summit as planned, but recently she also made it clear that al-Bashir would not be welcome at the continental indaba given his pending ICC arrest warrants.
Malawi is a State party to the Rome Statute which created the ICC. The statute requires member States to cooperate with the court, which includes executing arrest warrants as the ICC has no police force and depends on member States to enforce its orders.
“Malawi joins an increasing number of countries that have declined to welcome al-Bashir. More States should follow Malawiâ€™s example,” said Alan Wallis, international justice lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, another signatory to the statement.
The human rights bodies noted that some countries such as Kenya, Chad and Djibouti have allowed al-Bashir on their territory.
The statement observed that following outcries from African civil society groups, other States, including Zambia, the Central African Republic and Uganda, have cancelled al-Bashir visits whereas Kenya cancelled a return visit.
Some countries such as South Africa and Botswana have made it clear that al-Bashir is not welcome on their soil, according to the statement.
“Civil society groups across the African continent have repeatedly urged governments to arrestâ€”not hostâ€”al-Bashir. African activists have called for their governments to stand with victims, not with suspected war criminals,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.
Vice-President Khumbo Kachali announced on Friday that Malawi has decided not to host the summit in view of the AU stand that al-Bashir should be allowed to attend the event.
Apart from CHRR, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Human Rights Watch, other signatories of the statement include Sierra Leone-based Coalition for Justice and Accountability and the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Amnesty International, the Uganda Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Kenyaâ€™s International Centre for Transitional Justice, USAâ€™s Coalition for the International Criminal Court and the Institute for Security Studies in South African.