War crimes judges will on Friday hear why South Africa failed to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir during a 2015 visit, as they mull whether to report the country to the United Nations for possible action.
South Africa’s lawyers will defend the decision not to detain Bashir – wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – at a hearing scheduled to start at 07:30 at the International Criminal Court.
At the heart of the matter is South Africa’s refusal to arrest Bashir when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg in mid-June 2015, insisting he had “head of state immunity” and allowing him instead to slip out of the country under shadowy circumstances.
Judges at the tribunal based in The Hague will decide after the day-long hearing whether the country violated its obligations by not arresting Bashir and handing him over.
South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute which underpins the world’s only permanent war crimes court.
In 2005, the UN Security Council asked the ICC to probe crimes in the western Sudan region of Darfur, where according to UN figures, some 330 000 people have been killed in a conflict between Khartoum and mostly black African insurgents.
The tribunal issued arrest warrants in 2009 and 2010 for Bashir for alleged crimes related to the conflict. He has steadfastly denied the charges.