Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir leaves South Africa as court mulls war crimes arrest
By Don Melvin and Eliott C. McLaughlin
(CNN) Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a man accused of war crimes and genocide, has left South Africa one step ahead of the law.
Al-Bashir left the country Monday just as a South African High Court was considering whether to order his arrest. His departure was confirmed by both the South African and Sudanese governments.
Sudan’s state news agency, SUNA, reported that Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour would hold a press conference at the airport Monday evening “following return of the President of the Republic.”
Judge Hans Fabricius had ruled Sunday that al-Bashir had to stay in South Africa while a court considered whether he should be arrested. The judge also ordered all ports in the country to prevent the Sudanese leader from leaving.
But lawyers arguing in court for al-Bashir’s arrest warned, in advance, that the ports of entry and exit were not obeying the judge’s order.
It is unclear in light of the judge’s order what help al-Bashir might have received, and from whom. His plane had been relocated earlier from Tambo International Airport, near Johannesburg, to Waterkloof military base, south of Pretoria.
And sometime after that, the alleged war criminal went to the military base and slipped through the net.
Court proceedings were underway
His departure came as the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria was considering a request by the International Criminal Court to arrest him on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The ICC charges against al-Bashir stem from the conflict in the Darfur region in western Sudan, which began in 2003. The government of Sudan has been accused of repression and ethnic cleansing of Darfur’s non-Arab population.
Al-Bashir had been in South Africa attending a two-day summit of African Union leaders.
Fabricius, the judge, said Sunday that he wanted to determine whether it was legally acceptable for Pretoria to allow al-Bashir to visit South Africa without arresting him — and key in that decision would be determining if the South African Cabinet’s decision not to comply with the ICC demand could trump an international treaty, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper reported.
The court proceedings began again Monday morning, then went into a one-hour adjournment. South African state lawyer William Mokhari told the court that the best information the government had was that al-Bashir was still in the country.
But Isabel Goodman, a lawyer from Southern Africa Litigation Centre, told the court that the country’s ports of entry and exit were not being responsive to the court’s order.
“There remains a very real risk that President Bashir will leave,” she said, urging the court to hear the matter as quickly as possible.
The judge said that, when the court reconvened, he wanted to be informed of which ports of entry were not complying with the emergency order to block ports.
After al-Bashir’s departure became known, Judge Dunstan Mlambo said it was “of concern to us that an order of this court was not complied with.”
Mlambo said the government must now file an affidavit on how al-Bashir was allowed to leave, when he left and who signed off on it. Read more