Minister of Youth and Sports Enock Chihana has told parliament that Malawi is now a country that respects human rights and is not going to “dine and wine with dictators,” such as Sudanese President Al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over crimes against humanity and genocide.

The issue of Al Bashir forced Malawi to give up on hosting of the African Union Heads of State summit next month after President Joyce Banda said that Malawi would not welcome him. Banda said the decision was in the “economic interests” of Malawians, fearing that donors would withdraw their aid again for hosting Bashir after he was hosted by then president Bingu wa Mutharika in Lilongwe last year.

Chihana, responding to a contribution by Mulanje West MP Patricia Kaliati who deplored the government’s decision to cancel the summit, said: “The honourable member is out of order to question the motive and wisdom behind government’s decision on AU. This government will not be dining and wining with dictators like Al-bashir. This government respects human rights.”

The government benches applauded Chihana’s comments.

Kaliati, the former information minister who defended Mutharika’s economic and political policies that saw donors pull out their aid because of governance and human rights concerns, said she regretted the decision to cancel the summit “as it had robbed small-scale farmers and traders an opportunity to make money during the summit.”

The former outspoken minister added: “It’s unfortunate that government decided to go ahead and cancel the summit which could have created jobs in both the public and private sector. They should have considered these people before the decision.”

The late president Mutharika gave Al-Bashir red carpet treatment when he came to Malawi to attend a regional trade summit against calls for Malawi to arrest the Sudanese leader and hand him over to the ICC.

Banda on Thursday told a news conference on her return to visits to Britain and the USA that by refusing to host the Sudanese president she had acted in the “interests of Malawi and Malawians”

“I respect the decision to move the summit to Ethiopia. I respect Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as head of state of Sudan, but as President Joyce Banda, my main agenda right now is economic recovery.

The President said she will not even attend the summit at the AUheadquarters in Addis Ababa, saying: “The vice president [Khumbo Kachali] will now be going to Addis Ababa for the African Union summit.”

When Mutharika hosted Bashir in October last year, it worsened Malawi’s ties with donors who suspended their support over that and a host of governance issues. Banda said the AU did not support Malawi when aid was cancelled, adding that the country instead lost vital aid taps.

The International Criminal Court has an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the troubled Darfur region.

Under current ICC rules, signatories—which include Malawi and 32 other African states—have a duty to arrest Al Bashir.

Bashir is the first sitting president indicted by the court and wherever he goes, his visits leave the hosting country in quandary as some African states have vowed to arrest him, while others have said they will flout the court rules and not arrest him.

In 2009, the AU said it would not respect the ICC warrant and urged the United Nations to suspend the arrest order.

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