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Bashir in Sudan After Defying S. Africa Court Order


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is seen during the opening session of the AU summit in Johannesburg, June 14, 2015.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir flew home from South Africa Monday, defying a Pretoria court order to remain in the country until it decided whether he should be arrested on war crimes and genocide charges.

Dressed in his traditional white robes, Bashir waved his cane in the air as he arrived in Khartoum and shouted, "God is greatest!"

Bashir had been in Johannesburg for an African Union summit, but the International Criminal Court sought to compel his arrest while he was there.

The ICC has charged him with 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, but Bashir has long resisted the court's authority.

An ICC prosecutor and the U.S. State Department said they were "disappointed" in South Africa's failure to arrest Bashir. A court order calling for his arrest came after he had left for home.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke the U.S. "regretted" Bashir's decision to travel to South Africa in the first place, and is "disappointed" that no action was taken against him while he was there.

Rathke also said senior State Department officials in South Africa conveyed U.S. views on Bashir to the South African government. But he declined to provide specifics.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield told VOA that, for the United States, having the Sudanese president at the summit was a “controversy.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit in Johannesburg, Thomas-Greenfield said United States has supported efforts of the ICC, which issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest. She added that the United States has encouraged African countries and other nations that are signatores to the ICC to turn him over for prosecution.

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.

Sudan's official news agency said Bashir would hold a news conference at the Khartoum airport but there was no word from him after he arrived.

Before Bashir left South Africa, both the United Nations and the United States called for his arrest.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "The authority of the ICC must be respected and its decision implemented."

ICC criticism

Earlier Monday, Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman told VOA that the president "is not a criminal" and attended the summit after getting assurances from South African President Zuma.

"We have very good relations with the government of South Africa," Osman said. "We know that they are not going to arrest the president and nothing will happen."

Osman also criticized the ICC, which has active cases involving Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Ivory Coast.

"The ICC is a court practically directed toward punishment of the African leaders. A lot of crimes have been now committed around the world and these countries have gotten an immunity," Osman said, specifically citing Israel and the United States.

Caroline James, a lawyer from the Southern Africa Litigation Center that petitioned for the courts to force Bashir's arrest, said many of the ICC's cases came from requests by the nations involved.

"The other thing that is important to note is that although you can argue that the ICC is targeting African leaders, you can also argue that it is taking special efforts to ensure that African victims of human rights violations are given access to justice," James said.

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."

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, 2nd from right, stands with other African leaders during a photo op at the AU summit in Johannesburg, June 14, 2015.
Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, 2nd from right, stands with other African leaders during a photo op at the AU summit in Johannesburg, June 14, 2015.

AU group photo

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.

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 its independence.