With the exception of basically everything written at Wronging Rights, “transitional justice jokes“, and occasional pieces from The Onion, the world of international criminal justice rarely produces funny moments. Franky, it would have shocked exactly no one if there wasn’t an ounce of humour to be found in the whole debacle that was Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s recent visit to South Africa in defiance of international and domestic law. But then there was a rather hilarious exchange between journalists and Jeff Rathke spokesperson for the US State Department. As with all humour, it’s the truthiness of the subject matter that has the best comedic effect (but I’ll let the transcript speak for itself):
QUESTION: What makes South Africa different from other countries where Bashir has traveled to before?
MR RATHKE: Do you have some specific —
QUESTION: You want me to speculate or what?
QUESTION: He was also in Egypt.
MR RATHKE: No, the specifics. I said you —
QUESTION: He – for example, the Secretary was recently in Nigeria for an inauguration. He was on the same VIP tribune as Bashir. There was no call to take action then. Is South Africa special, or you expect more of them than other African countries?
MR RATHKE: Well, I’ll let the South Africans speak to their own —
QUESTION: No, I’m asking about you.
MR RATHKE: — to their standards.
QUESTION: I’m not asking about South Africa.
MR RATHKE: Right, but —
QUESTION: I’m asking why you ask – demand this from South Africa in this instance, but you don’t demand it in other instances.
MR RATHKE: Well, again, we set —
QUESTION: That has nothing to do about South Africa.
MR RATHKE: We strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold those accountable who are responsible for genocide, for crimes against humanity, and for war crimes.
QUESTION: Except when they go to Nigeria?
MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have the detail of every place where President Bashir may have traveled, so I’m not —
QUESTION: He was there. You’re – I mean, the Secretary of State was there probably within 10 meters of him.
MR RATHKE: Well, I mean —
QUESTION: I was there.
And then it actually gets even better:
QUESTION: And then just to follow up to what Matt was saying, do you believe he should have been arrested?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, the – we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold those accountable who are accused of crimes like genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity. So we certainly are disappointed that no action was taken.
QUESTION: So why is it that you haven’t joined up?
MR RATHKE: Pardon?
QUESTION: Why isn’t the U.S. a member of the – U.S. a member of the court if you strongly support the court’s —
MR RATHKE: Well, we are not a party to the Rome Statute. That’s —
QUESTION: Is that simply because you don’t believe you can get the approval of it in the Senate?
MR RATHKE: Look, our policy on U.S. – on the U.S. joining the Rome Statute hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Okay. Well —
MR RATHKE: New topic?
QUESTION: No, same topic.
Apparently others thought it was funny too:
QUESTION: I’d like to change the subject if you’d like.
MR RATHKE: Please.
You can access the whole transcript here.