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US Joins Calls for South Africa to Arrest Sudan's Bashir

FILE - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir speaks to the crowd after a swearing-in ceremony at green square in Khartoum, June 2, 2015.
FILE - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir speaks to the crowd after a swearing-in ceremony at green square in Khartoum, June 2, 2015.

The United States joined calls Sunday for South Africa to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on longstanding charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity as he visited for an African Union summit.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said that while the U.S. is not a part of the International Criminal Court, it strongly supports efforts to hold accountable the perpetrators of genocide and war crimes.

"In light of the atrocities in Darfur, 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," Kirby said in a statement.

Court rules Bashir must stay

The ICC has charged Bashir with 10 counts including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for sending the army and backing Arab militias to put down an armed uprising in the Darfur conflict in 2003.

Earlier Sunday, a South African judge ordered authorities to prevent Bashir from leaving the country.

"President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is prohibited from leaving the Republic of South Africa until the final order is made in this application," Judge Hans Fabricius said in his ruling.

Sudan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Ismail said Bashir would return home after the main session of the summit.

Despite calls for his arrest, Bashir took part in a group photo with other African leaders at the summit in Johannesburg on Sunday.

In a message posted to Twitter, South Africa's ruling African National Congress party said it was calling upon the government to challenge the order against Bashir. It says immunity was granted to all participants of the summit as part of the international norms for countries hosting such gatherings.

The United Nations says fighting in the impoverished Darfur region has killed 300,000 people and created more than 2 million refugees. Most of the victims were civilians.

ICC President Sidiki Kaba said South Africa, which "has always contributed to the strengthening of the Court," should "spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants."

Activists react

Elise Keppler, the associate director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program said Sunday South Africa "should not flout its international obligations and stain [its] credibility on justice" by failing to arrest President Bashir.

"How many thousands of Africans can you kill before you're not welcome at [the] African Union summit?" Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director of Human Rights Watch said on Twitter Sunday.

Bashir was sworn in earlier this month for another five-year presidential term.

He promised to fight corruption, improve the economy and bring relations with the West back to what he calls their "natural state."

He also vowed to bring peace to three separate regions where armed groups are fighting to topple his government -- Blue Nile, Darfur and Kordofan. The president repeated his offer of total amnesty to any armed rebel who joins peace talks.

Bashir has ruled Sudan for 25 years. The country has not only been battered by armed rebellion, but by international sanctions and the loss of oil revenue when South Sudan gained independence.

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