Malawi decision to forego hosting the African Union Summit if Al-Bashir attends"¦a further Indication of net closing in on Africa's Despots

Symbolic gestures are powerful tools in bringing about social and political change. These gestures are powerful for what they represent and increasing individual empathy for, personal stake in, and raising awareness and knowledge on an issue. The decision by Malawi to forego hosting the African Union Summit and commitment to arrest Omar Hassan Al-Bashir if he sets foot in Malawi is a clear symbolic gesture meant to communicate their stance against violation of human rights. Malawi ratified the Rome Statute, (in 2002) that gave birth to the International Criminal Court, and in spite of an A.U consensus not to abide by the ICC indictement, Malawi seems serious about its commitments under the Rome Statute.


In July 2008, the criminal court alleged that Al- Bashir bore individual criminal responsibility for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in Darfur. Bashir stands accused of masterminding and implementing a plan to decimate the three main ethnic groups: The Fur, The Masalit and The Zaghawa using a campaign of  murder,  rape  and  deportation. Al-Bashir was issued a warrant of arrest which is supported by NATO, the Genocide Intervention Network and Amnesty International.


Malawi's action, has a lot of symbolic meanings, but also has actual and real repercussions for Bashir and his ilk, in as far as their crimes are concerned and their ability to go scot free in spite of them. In this regard, Malawi joins a host of other African Nations, which are signatories to the Rome Statute, which have also barred Al-Bashir from stepping on to their shores. These countries include, Uganda, Kenya (for a return visit in, The Central African Republic (CAR), and Zambia, while countries like Botswana and South Africa have made it clear that they will uphold their ICC responsibilities should Al Bashir visit their countries. In November 2011, Kenya's High Court Judge Nicholas Ombija ordered the Minister of Internal Security to arrest al-Bashir, "should he set foot in Kenya in the future". Al Bashir had been invited to a ceremony for Kenya's new constitution in August 2010.


In October 2011 Al-Bashir was in Malawi for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa heads of state meeting. His visit triggered international criticism and condemnation after the late President of Malawi, Bingu Wa Mutharika ignored international calls to bar him from coming to Malawi. With passing on of Wa Mutharika and the assendency of President Joyce Banda, It is clear that the wave is shifting in terms of accountability where crimes against humanity are concerned. The bold stance taken by President Banda will signal a paradigm shift from the blind (often mistaken) pan Africanist loyalties to more objective, democratic and constructive reasoning and actions from policy makers. Perpetrators of human rights should face the full wrath of the law despite their political might and who their friends are on the continent.

The international community has adopted a firmer stance against human rights violations at a global level. The enforcement of International treaties and covenants is among the tools at the disposal of the international community in ensuring that government and individuals respect human rights world over. In Zimbabwe some companies and individuals have been placed on Sanctions following the role they played in violating human rights, and in crushing a legitimate opposition that had become a real threat to ZANU PF's hold on power. Zimbabwe has continued to defy the calls for the respect of human rights and has been in political and diplomatic quarantine for years. Isolation from the international community impedes economic and social growth of a nation in an era of globalization. The formation of the inclusive government gave hope and optimism for economic recovery, political stability and growth but the inclusive government has not been able to fulfill the global political agreement and as such has failed to deliver on some milestones for progress that could impact on the observance of human rights. The slow pace of the constitution making process, the continued violence and intimidation and the state striping of people's property under the disguise of indigenization are handy examples.

President Banda should be commended for taking a bold stance and standing firm inspite of the possibilities of political attacks from Bashir's fellow despots on the continent.   Malawi's actions, when aggregated together with other developments on the continent, like the Land mark South African North Gauteng High Court Ruling compelling prosecuting and policing authorities to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Zimbabwe from 2008, clearly show that spaces to hide for human rights violators and despots is shrinking. They bear testimony that impunity in the world must come to an end for no-one can claim the infallibility. The victims of human rights violations will receive a clear message: 'they are not ignored and the perpetrators will receive a clear message: There will be no impunity.'

Leaders with records of human rights violations should know that one day the long arm of the law will catch up with them. It might not be a local arm, but it will still be the long arm of the law and justice.

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