Bashir: Sudanese officials brush off legal hearing

2015-06-15 10:07
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. (AFP)

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. (AFP)

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Johannesburg - A South African judge was due to hear arguments on Monday over an application to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at a summit of African leaders in Johannesburg.

The African Union gathering has been overshadowed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) calling for Bashir to be arrested by South Africa over alleged war crimes and genocide during the Darfur conflict.

On Sunday, Judge Hans Fabricius ordered authorities to stop Bashir from leaving the country and said the court would reconvene at 11:30 on Monday.

At the summit, Bashir attended a group photograph along with South African host President Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe, who is the chair of the 54-member group.

Bashir was seen at the conference venue on Sunday evening, but his whereabouts on Monday was not confirmed.

Crimes against humanity

"We met at 03:00 this morning preparing our [court[ papers," Mthunzi Mhaga, the department of justice spokesperson, told ENCA news.

"We will meticulously argue for the application to be dismissed."

The Southern African Litigation Centre, a legal rights group, had launched an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court to force the authorities to arrest Bashir.

South Africa is a signatory of the ICC, which has often been criticised for only targeting Africa leaders.

The European Union issued a statement saying it "expects South Africa... [to act] in executing the arrest warrant against any ICC indictee present in the country".

The United States, which is not a signatory of the ICC, said it "strongly support[ed] international efforts to hold accountable those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes".

"We call on the Government of South Africa to support the international community's efforts to provide justice for the victims of these heinous crimes."

'Assurances given'

Sudanese officials at the summit brushed off the legal hearing.

"We are not abiding with any... decision of any court," Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour told AFP.

"We are here as guests of the government of South Africa. Assurances have been made by that government. We will leave on time as scheduled."

Monday is the closing day of the summit.

The ICC called on South Africa "to spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants" against Bashir, 71, who seized power in Sudan in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

The ICC indictments relate to the western Sudanese region of Darfur, which erupted into conflict in 2003 when black 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.

"As a member of the International Criminal Court, (South Africa) has committed to cooperate with that court," said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch.

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