Sitting heads of states have no immunity from arrest and prosecution when in South Africa, the country’s High court reaffirmed the country’s status on international law this week.
Despite the position of the African Union (AU) that sitting President in the African region would not be arrested and prosecuted, the North Gauteng High court has reaffirmed its decision that under South African law, the fugitives have to be arrested while in South Africa regardless of their social standing.
According to a panel of three judges in Pretoria, who included the Judge President and deputy Judge President, the Implementation Act of that country allows law enforcement officers to arrest visiting President, members of Parliament and government officials including during official visits to South Africa.
Parts of the Act read that, “this statute shall apply equally to all persons without any distinctions based on official capacity. In particular, official capacity as Head of State or Government, a member of Government or Parliament, an elected representative or a government official, shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility under this statute, nor shall it in, and of itself, constitute a ground for reduction for sentence,” and that, “immunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person whether under national or international law, shall not bar the court from exercising its jurisdiction over such a person.”
When rejecting the state’s application to appeal against the June judgment on the Omar Al-Bashir matter, the North Gauteng High Court reaffirmed its decision that under South African law, the Sudanese President, Bashir, should have been arrested when he attended the African Union Summit in that country in June this year.
The order under appeal directed the South African government to arrest President Bashir and surrender him to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution for various alleged international crimes. It was sought and granted on the basis that President Bashir was in South Africa and consequently subject to the jurisdiction of the South African courts and capable for arrest by the South Africa Authorities.
However since the country’s President, Jacob Zuma took a political decision to protect Bashir from the arrest and let him go, the court decided that it was not necessary to appeal against the order. The contention was that the outcome of the appeal whether it succeeds or fails, would not have practical effect.
“South African Government is bound by the provisions of the Implementation Act and must implement its provisions. It has enacted this domestic legislation and is obviously bound by it,” read part of the ruling.
However the contention by the S.A government was that the leave to appeal, if granted, would have a practical effect as it will deal with the issue of whether indeed a sitting head of state enjoys immunity under international law and South African law or is subject to arrest in that country.
The worry expressed by government was that the decision would ultimately affect future international events in that country because it raises important questions of international law arising from the interpretation of the implementation and immunities Acts.
The matter also has a diplomatic impact since South Africa is a party to the AU’s decision to reject the ICC.
The calls for Africa to pull from the ICC gained momentum in June 2009 when several African States including Comoros, Djibouti and Senegal suggested it in protest against the believe that the court targets Africa. Then investigations against Bashir for crimes against humanity were starting.
In 2013 Kenya, Uganda and later South Africa joined the fray in protest against ICC’s Investigations in Kenya. A mass withdrawal from the ICC by African States was discussed in October 2014 and it was agreed that Kenya case should be deferred as Uhuru Kenyatta was still in office.
The matter is still a hot topic in the AU as other countries such as Botswana still fully rally behind the ICC and have made it known that they are not ready to pull out.
To date no country has officially pulled out of the ICC and as evidenced by the South African High Court, even laws in some of the countries have not been changed to strengthen the political stand against the ICC.
The South African Judiciary which have been praised by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre as being independent maintains that Bashir enjoyed no immunity from arrest or from prosecution under customary international law even though he is a serving Head of State.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.