Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is in Johannesburg, South Africa, for African Union summit
Lawyers' group demands his arrest; judge rules to keep him in country while legal battle plays out
African Union tells member states not to cooperate with international court because of Africa bias
The International Criminal Court’s six-year quest to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and genocide took a step closer to reality Sunday after he arrived at the African Union summit in South Africa.
The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria barred al-Bashir from leaving the country while hearings determine the fate of the ICC arrest warrant, a spokesman for the legal team seeking his detention told CNN.
The state asked Judge Hans Fabricius to delay proceedings until Sunday afternoon to give it time to prepare its arguments, and the judge agreed, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said from the high court.
Lawyers for the litigation center asked for a court order that would prevent al-Bashir from leaving South Africa until the court delivered its decision, and Fabricius granted that motion as well, Ramjathan-Keogh said.
Fabricius wants to determine whether it’s legally acceptable for Pretoria to allow al-Bashir to visit South Africa without arresting him, and key in that decision will be determining if the South African Cabinet’s decision not to comply with the ICC demand can trump an international treaty, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper reported.
Earlier Monday, when al-Bashir’s whereabouts were still unclear, the chairman of South Africa’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Siphosezwe Masango, said he was concerned about the Sudanese President’s possible arrest.
Sidiki Kaba, the Senegalese justice minister who serves as president of the assembly of states parties to the Rome Statute, expressed his “deep concern about the negative consequences for the court in case of nonexecution of the warrants by States Parties and, in this regard, urges them to respect their obligations to cooperate with the Court.”
South Africa had twice before threatened to arrest al-Bashir – in 2009 before President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration and in 2010 before the World Cup, according to the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. He attended neither event, according to news reports.
El-Sisi faces no ICC indictment, but Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb attended the summit instead, according to numerous media reports.
The summit poses a tricky situation in that the African Union invited all but one of the continent’s leaders – the Central African Republic’s Catherine Samba-Panza – to the summit and has “adopted an official policy which requires its member states not to cooperate with the ICC as it is regarded as biased against Africa since all its indictments to date have been against African individuals,” the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said.
Al-Bashir, a former Army colonel who came to power via a 1989 coup, stands accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the updated 2013 ICC arrest warrant states.
Arrest warrants from 2009 and 2010 outline the case against al-Bashir and allege that during the Darfur conflict he ordered the military, police and Janjaweed militia to attack three ethnic groups deemed sympathetic to rebel outfits with “the specific intent to destroy in part” those groups.
As part of that campaign, the warrants say, the Sudanese President ordered the rape, murder and torture of civilians and the razing of villages.
The United Nations has estimated that as many as 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since 2003, a tally the Sudanese government says is inflated. Another 7 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates.
Last week, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations told the Security Council that the ongoing violence in Darfur was having a “devastating” impact on civilians. More than 78,000 civilians have been displaced this year, the U.N. reports.
CNN’s Brent Swails contributed to this report.