Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir traveled to Sandton, South Africa June 14 to attend the 25th African Union (AU) Summit, prompting a South African high court to issue an interim order to prevent al-Bashir from leaving South Africa.
Al-Bashir, who has been indicted of war crimes (among other charges) by the International Criminal Court (ICC) fled from Johannesburg before he could be arrested.
It is as yet unclear if South Africa will face any serious consequences for defying the ICC.
Who is Omar al-Bashir?
Omar al-Bashir is the current president of Sudan. He has been in power since 1989 when he took over in a coup during the 21-year civil war in the country. He won the 2015 elections to be president again for the next five years.
Why has the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir?
After the 2003 war in Darfur, the ICC accused al-Bashir of genocide (three counts), war crimes (two counts) like attacking civilians in Darfur, and crimes against humanity (five counts) like extermination and rape. The war led to the deaths of an estimated 300,000 people and the displacement of 2.5 million people.
Al-Bashir is the world’s only sitting leader to have been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.
According to the prosecution’s case against the Sudanese president, “Al Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity.”
The ICC’s pre-trial chamber issued the first warrant for al-Bashir March 4, 2009, and the most recent warrant was issued July 12, 2010. He was officially indicted in 2009.
What happened when al-Bashir arrived in Johannesburg?
A South African court in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, granted an interim order June 14 to prevent al-Bashir from leaving South Africa until it hears the application calling for his arrest.
An application reportedly lodged by a human rights group was set to be heard in the Pretoria High Court June 15 to decide whether al-Bashir should be arrested. The court ruled that al-Bashir be arrested in accordance with the ICC’s warrant on charges including genocide and crimes against humanity.
There was confusion surrounding al-Bashir’s whereabouts. Since he was never in custody, the Sudanese president left on a plane to Khartoum June 15 from the Waterkloof air force base more than three hours before the ruling was made. Despite an order barring him from leaving, al-Bashir took off at 11:46 am, yet his departure was only confirmed at around 3 pm.
It has been reported that while news around al-Bashir’s possible arrest in Johannesburg escalated, Sudanese troopsheld about 1,400 South African U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur as ‘hostages’ to ensure al-Bashir’s safe return. However, the U.N.has denied it.
What was the reaction of the Sudanese people?
However, according to the BBC, Sudan described the attempt to arrest al-Bashir as “lame and meaningless.” Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said the court order was an attack on Sudanese sovereignty.
Al-Bashir arrived at the Khartoum International Airport on June 15, 2015 and was greeted by large a crowd of cheering supporters. A Reuters article reported the crowd carried images of the president with the banner “Lion of Africa” while chanting “God is great.”
Is this the first time al-Bashir has traveled since the second arrest was issued?
No. After the warrant was issued in 2010, most of al-Bashir’s trips abroad have been to states that are not ICC members, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.
But he has also been to ICC member states that have declined to arrest him such as Nigeria, which he visited in July 2013.
However, this is the closest any country has ever come to acting on the ICC’s arrest warrant. South Africa is a member of the ICC, which does not have its own police force and relies on member states to detain suspects.
What does al-Bashir’s escape mean?
ICC judges have given the South African government a week to explain why it defied a court order barring al-Bashir from leaving the country. The South African government said it would investigate the circumstances surrounding his departure.
According to the BBC, it is unlikely South Africa will face sanctions for allowing al-Bashir to leave the country even after a court order barred him from doing so.
In the past, a number of African countries decided not to co-operate with the ICC. The court has been accused of racism and bias against African leaders. The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is calling for other countries to withdraw from the ICC.
Contributed by Ola Diab. Full brief also available at Gistory.co.