Sudanese president leaves South Africa; court says he should have been arrested

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Sudanese President Omar Bashir flew out of South African on June 15 despite a court order a day earlier that he remain until a judge decided if he should be arrested and sent to face International Criminal Court (ICC) war crimes charges.

South African officials had said Bashir would be free to leave as he was visiting on a diplomatic mission which fell outside the government’s pledge to arrest war crimes suspects within its territory.

Sudanese President Omar Bashir
Sudanese President Omar Bashir

After his departure, the court said he should have been arrested.

South Africa High Court Judge Hans Fabricius said the court should have ruled on a rights group’s demand that the country honor its commitment to the ICC and arrest Bashir.

[Related: Report: Sudan Army uses rape in Darfour as policy, Feb. 16]

Bashir was in Johannesburg on June 14 for the African Union (AU) summit.

The Sudanese president is wanted on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for the regime’s actions during the suppression of rebellions in Darfur. The ICC first issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest in 2009.

The ICC will continue its pursuit of Bashir’s arrest and could punish South Africa for defying its order, Julian Nicolls, a senior trial lawyer at the ICC, told the BBC.

“We will evaluate what action to take next regarding South Africa’s failure to arrest and transfer Mr. Bashir,” he said.

South Africa was a strong supporter of the ICC when it was created in 2002, but that support has faltered in recent years and many see the court as too focused on Africa while overlooking abuses in the Middle East and Latin America.

“The International Criminal Court is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended,” South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), the party Nelson Mandela led to power, said on June 14.

The African Union in 2013 accused the ICC of “race hunting” Africans and began lobbying for cases against sitting heads of states to be turned over to Africa courts. In 2014, the ICC dropped charges against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, citing a lack of evidence for charges related to his alleged role in 2007 election violence.

Rights groups said AU problems with the ICC didn’t excuse South Africa from its commitment to the court.

“South Africa’s legal obligations as an ICC member means cooperating in Bashir’s arrest, not in his travel plans,” said Elise Keppler, an associate director at Human Rights Watch.

Bashir won a new five-year term in April elections that opposition parties boycotted and Western diplomats denounced as rigged. The United Nations said 300,000 people have been killed in conflicts during his time in office. Sudan put the number at 10,000.

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