Court blocks Sudan leader from leaving South Africa
A South African judge yesterday banned Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from leaving the country after the International Criminal Court called for him to be arrested at a summit in Johannesburg.
Bashir, who is wanted for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Darfur conflict, mostly travels to countries that have not joined the ICC, but South Africa is a signatory of the court's statutes.
The ruling was the first time any court has prevented a head of state from leaving a country following a request by the ICC, but Khartoum remained defiant, insisting Bashir would return home.
The Southern African Litigation Centre, a legal rights group, had launched an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court to force authorities to arrest Bashir on the opening day of the African Union summit.
"President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is prohibited from leaving the Republic of South Africa until the final order is made in this application," Judge Hans Fabricius said in his ruling.
"The respondents are directed to all necessary steps to prevent him from doing so."
Despite the arrest calls, Bashir joined a group photograph of leaders at the summit.
In Khartoum, Sudan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Ismail said Bashir would return home after the main session of the summit.
The ICC said in a statement from its headquarters in The Hague that it "calls on South Africa... to spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants" against Bashir.
It said South Africa diplomats had been pressed last month to arrest Bashir if he attended the summit, but that they replied they faced "competing obligations" over the issue.
The ICC indictments relate to the western Sudanese region of Darfur, which erupted into conflict in 2003 when ethnic insurgents launched a campaign against Bashir's Arab-dominated government, complaining of marginalisation.
Khartoum unleashed a bloody counter-insurgency using the armed forces and allied militia.
The United Nations says 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict and another 2.5 million forced to flee their homes.
Khartoum, however, disputes the figures, estimating the death toll at no more than 10,000.