South Africa Defends Decision Not to Arrest Sudan's al-Bashir

  • Al-Bashir visited South Africa to attend African Union summit
  • Supreme Court of Appeals to rule on immunity argument

South African government lawyers said the nation’s High Court erred last year when it ruled that the state had violated the law by failing to prevent Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir from leaving the country pending a decision on whether he should be arrested under an International Criminal Court warrant.

As a serving head of state, al-Bashir was guaranteed immunity from prosecution when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg in June, Jeremy Gauntlett, the government’s lawyer, told the Supreme Court of Appeals in the central city of Bloemfontein on Friday. Wim Trengove, a lawyer for the Southern African Litigation Centre, argued that as a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, South Africa was obliged to arrest the Sudanese leader.

The Supreme Court reserved its judgment in the case.

Al-Bashir, 72, has ruled Sudan for a quarter century since taking power in a military coup. The ICC, based in The Hague, indicted al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for his alleged role in atrocities in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where insurgents took up arms in 2003. As many as 300,000 people have died in the conflict, mainly from illness and starvation, according to the United Nations.

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