Judges at the International Criminal Court have ruled that South Africa failed in its obligations to the war crimes court by failing to arrest Sudan's wanted president when he visited the nation for a summit of African leaders in 2015. The ruling comes as South African officials dig in their heels in their decision to withdraw from the court after the controversial incident.
Two years after Omar al-Bashir’s whirlwind visit to South Africa, judges at the International Criminal Court unanimously ruled the nation’s officials erred by failing to arrest Sudan’s president on an international war crimes warrant.
The court issued a warrant in 2009 for the Sudanese leader on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for his involvement the long-running conflict in Darfur, where the United Nations estimates 300,000 people have been killed and more than two million have been displaced.
On Thursday, Judge Cuno Tarfusser said the three judges had unanimously agreed on the ruling.
“By not arresting Omar al-Bashir while he was on its territory between 13 and 15 June, 2015, South Africa failed to comply with the court’s request for the arrest and surrender of Omar al-Bashir, contrary to the provisions of the statute, thereby preventing the court from exercising its functions and powers under the statute in connection with the criminal proceedings instituted against Omar al-Bashir,” said Tarfusser.
But the panel said they would not refer the matter to a higher authority at the United Nations.
Southern Africa Litigation Center executive director Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh told VOA her legal advocacy group welcomes the ruling, including the decision not to refer the case to the Assembly of States Parties, or members, of the court.
“A referral to the ASP or the U.N. Security Council would practically have not been of much effect in any case If we look at the referrals of other similar countries in similar situations: Uganda, Djibouti Kenya, the DRC," said Ramjathan-Keogh. "They were all either referred to the ASP or the United Nations Security Council, or to both bodies, who have taken no action on them. So I imagine South Africa would have been in precisely the same boat. They would have been referred, they would have been very upset about it and there would have been no follow-through from either of those bodies.”
South Africa announced its intent to leave the court in 2015, after the public disagreement with the court over the Bashir incident. The ruling African National Congress party said last week that it remains committed to leaving the court.
Other African nations and the African Union have frequently accused the court of targeting Africans. The court disputes this charge and notes it is investigating situations in a number of countries, but has yet to try a case from a non-African nation.