Lawyers for the South African government and the Southern Africa Litigation Center are due in court Monday to argue whether Pretoria should prevent Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from leaving the country.
A South African judge Sunday ordered the South African government to prevent Bashir from leaving the country, where he is attending an African Union summit.
Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and genocide stemming from his military’s role in the Darfur conflict.
Caroline James, a lawyer with the Southern Africa Litigation Center, said the South African government has a constitutional obligation to abide by all court decisions.
“Our objective is just to clarify the obligations that South Africa has in respect to fugitives from the ICC who may be present in the country and to determine whether, irrespective of any AU resolutions or diplomatic immunity supposedly connected to participation in the African Union summit, to determine whether the obligations under international as well as South African laws still applies,” she said.
The centre had asked the Pretoria High Court to force authorities to arrest Bashir. James said her organization has complete faith in the South African court system to issue the right decision and that the group will respect whichever decision the court renders.
Many African leaders have criticized the ICC for targeting only Africans. James said, while that argument may be justifiable, it is also important to note that much of the ICC’s investigations in Africa had been referred to the court by African leaders.
She also said the ICC is in Africa because it wants to give justice to Africans who are victims of human rights violations.
“Although you can argue that the ICC is targeting African leaders, you can also argue that it is taking special effort to ensure that African victims of human rights violations are given access to justice because all the situations in Africa that the ICC is investigating involves crime against African citizens,” James said.
James said there are no physical restrictions on Bashir while in South Africa except for the court order barring him from leaving the country.
“The obligation is placed on the South African authorities to ensure that he does not leave. So, if he were to show up at one of the port of exits of South Africa, the immigration officials at the entry and exit port would be required to prevent him from leaving,” she said.
The ruling African National Congress party said in a message posted on Twitter that the government should challenge the order against Bashir. It said immunity was granted to all participants of the summit as part of the international norms for countries hosting such gatherings.
“The South African government is required to abide by all South African court decisions, part of their constitutional obligation and we do believe that they will do that,” James said.
She said that if the South African authorities do not abide the court decision, the centre will issue contempt of court proceedings against the government.
The United States joined calls Sunday for South Africa to arrest the Sudanese leader. A spokesman 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," the statement said.