Pragmatism or Principle- colluding with War Criminals


The application by the Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA) to have the South African Police Services (SAPS) investigate leaders from India, China and Russia for crimes against humanity met with consternation in many quarters.

The South African government, hosting the BRICS conference where leaders of Brazil (Michel Temer), Russia (Putin), India (Modi), and China (Xi Jinping) faced a potentially diplomatic nightmare had SAPS considered issuing warrants of arrest for these world leaders.

The  Media Review Network (MRN) and MLA had applied to SAPS and the National Director of Public Prosecution (NDPP) to investigate, arrest and prosecute  Tzipi Livni, an Israeli Knesset member and former Prime Minister who was responsible for the atrocities committed against the Palestinians in Gaza. She decided not to come fearing arrest because SA, as a signatory to the Rome Statute of the  International Criminal Court (ICC), would have been obliged to arrest her. 

In 2015 Sudan’s president Omar Bashir caused a furore when SA hosted the AU summit with the ICC demanding that Omar Bashir be arrested and face trial. SA courts subsequently found that the government violated the ICC Act by allowing him to leave the country.

To avoid similar embarrassment and a diplomatic wrangle, the SA government enlisted the help of some Muslim organisations to influence the MLA and its supporters to withdraw the legal application against the BRICS leaders. The MLA declined, issuing a statement explaining that it would use the law to speak truth to power and expose their injustices.

At stake was the investment of billions of dollars which would ostensibly result in employment for South Africans which would be at risk were the MLA  to proceed with their SAPS and NDPP application. Four Muslim organisations  came out with a press release welcoming BRICS leaders, misrepresenting themselves as speaking on behalf of SA Muslims.

Debate on social media ensued vilifying the MLA, accusing it to be unpatriotic and insensitive to the plight of unemployed and destitute South Africans. This, they felt, would endanger the position of the Muslims in this country. There has been fiery rhetoric by populist politicians against minorities in SA that has rattled Muslims, despite their enormous contribution to the liberation struggle against Apartheid.

Given the Muslim population comprising of only 2% of South Africa, some opined that it was not pragmatic and also strategically foolhardy for the MLA to lodge an application to investigate and prosecute these  leaders for crimes against humanity.

The question arises whether pragmatism should be a criteria in considering the promise of an investment in the  billions of dollars by alleged war criminals, or should one take a principled stance in prosecuting any and all culprits of war crimes committed against civilians?

Principled people believe that fundamental truths should span all ages and cover all circumstances. To be principled is to think and act consistently with those truths and to be willing to stand alone for them, if necessary. To compromise on a principle leads to injustice.

Pragmatic people, on the other hand, are willing to dismiss fundamental truths in order to do whatever seems expedient to achieve a particular goal. To accept ill-gotten money from a criminal is immoral. Pragmatism is ignoring and dismissing the crimes that have been committed. Israel is an apartheid entity committing incremental genocide against the Palestinians that Muslims universally condemn. Would Muslims roll out the red carpet for Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu were he to come with billions of dollars offering jobs and technology to South Africa? 

India’s Narendra Modi, member of the right wing BJP and extremist RSS parties, was accused of initiating and condoning a pogrom in the state of Gujerat in 2002, resulting in the death of over 2000 Muslims and driving 150,000 people into refugee camps. And the Kashmiris, who are struggling for the right of self-determination as per the Resolution of UNSC dated April 21, 1948, are subjected to brutalities, mass killing, mass blinding, forced disappearance and mass gang rapes and mutilation of the women regardless of their ages by 700,000 Indian Armed Forces.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin massacred thousands of Chechen civilians in repeated massive air and land campaigns in Chechnya, reducing its capital Grozny to rubble. But it is his indiscriminate, barbaric bombing of Syria’s civilian population that is so appalling. In the conflict at least 500,000 have been killed and 10 million have been displaced.

And China’s president Xi Jinping has confined a million Muslims in ‘re-education’ detention camps described as “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population of the world today”. A historian described it as “cultural cleansing”. The Uighur Muslims face cultural, religious and economic discrimination in their land, East Turkestan, or Xinjiang, and have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in Ramadan.

The MLA’s appeal for SAPS to investigate, arrest and prosecute war criminals that strut about SA with impunity serves as a reminder of SA’s post-Apartheid-Mandela-era where we previously held the moral high ground regarding human rights. 

We should be ashamed to have the warmonger former USA president Barack Obama address us next to President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Mandela centenary celebrations. We should be ashamed that we collaborate militarily with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, accept $10 billion from each of them, when they are responsible for creating the largest humanitarian catastrophe through war in Yemen.

South Africa is a country governed by the rule of law that emerged after a long struggle against an Apartheid system that was described as crime against humanity. It is unconscionable that we sacrifice our principles of human rights, justice and dignity at the altar of the power of money.


Dr Firoz Osman is an Executive member of Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in Gauteng. He is also the co-author of Why Israel? Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid A SA perspective.