Malawi didn’t withdraw from hosting AU summit—Foreign Minister

Malawi never withdrew from hosting the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government Summit, the Minister of Foreign Affairs clarified on Friday.

Ephraim Chiume, speaking on the sidelines of the 21st ordinary session of the executive council made up of AU foreign ministers, also said Malawi invested heavily for the meeting, now under way in Ethiopia.

Asked about the reaction of AU member states after the summit which Malawi was supposed to host this same period was shifted to the Ethiopian capital, he said it was incorrect to say Malawi withdrew.

Min of Foreign Affairs Mganda Chiume speaking to international Media on issues sorrounding the change of venue for the hosting

“To say that Malawi withdrew is not correct,” Chiume said inside the imposing Chinese-built, new AU headquarters in the capital Addis Ababa. “It was shifted because of the challenges we faced.”

Malawi announced in June it would not host the AU Summit after the AU insisted the country had an obligation to allow Sudan’s leader Omar Al Bashir attend the meeting, despite being a wanted person.

Al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in his country’s Darfur region. But he denies the charges.

Before Malawi announced that it would not host the meeting, it had indicated it would arrest Al Bashir if he again set foot in the country. Malawi is signatory to the Rome Statute.

The Rome statute of the ICC is the treaty that established the ICC. It was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome, Italy, on July 1, 1998 and 121 states are party to the statute as of February 1, 2012.

The ICC can only automatically execute jurisdiction on crimes committed on the territory of a state party. State parties must cooperate with the court including surrendering suspects once asked to do so.

Sympathy for Malawi

In announcing the decision not to host the summit, Vice President Khumbo Kachali said the country was not prepared to accept the AU’s conditions. He said it would not be in the interest of Malawians.

The issue has generated a lot of interest at the summit among journalists and delegates. And there appears to be genuine sympathy for Malawi that it failed to host the summit because of Al Bashir.

Chiume said that last year when Malawi hosted the Common Market for East and Central (COMESA) Summit, it allowed the Sudanese president to attend the gathering and there were repercussions.

“After the summit, Malawi was criticized by the international community for not respecting the Rome Statute to which we are signatory. They said why did we not arrest him? We don’t know our fate.”

He said Malawi never said that Sudan was not supposed to attend the meeting, but wanted the country to be represented at lower level instead of Al Bashir attending the summit for reasons.

Malawi interests

Chiume said the AU bowed to pressure that was exerted on it and thus decided to shift the summit from Malawi’s capital Lilongwe to Ethiopia. He said all Malawi did was to respect the AU’s decision.

He said it was an issue that Malawi would certainly raise at the summit, that it was not the country that withdrew from hosting it. He said after all, Malawi invested massively preparing for the summit.

“I would like to put on record that as far as we are concerned, Malawi made huge investments in readiness for the summit,” he said, adding that an assessment team from the AU went to Malawi.

“They were satisfied that the facilities were right. So we were surprised that a decision was taken [to shift the summit from Malawi],” he told Malawian and foreign journalists covering the summit.

But Chiume said Malawi as a nation, according to resolution 911 of the AU, countries are supposed to balance their interests in terms of obligations to the AU and their national interests.

“We don’t understand why the AU did what they did,” he said.

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