Omar Al-Bashir whereabouts still unknown

JUNE 15, 2015

South Africa has been thrown in a diplomatic and legal quandary after the Pretoria High Court ordered that the Department of Home Affairs ensures that Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir does not leave the country – but the President seems to have gone AWOL.

On Monday morning, it was still unknown if Al-Bashir was still within the borders of South Africa after conflicting reports surfaced – one claiming that he indeed made a hurried departure on Sunday while another claimed he was still in the country.

The Mercury newspaper reported on Monday that it understood that Al-Bashir had left South Africa under a heavy police escort.

“He was escorted by all the security detail, including the Saps VIP Protection Unit, metro police and intelligence officials,” said a highly-placed source familiar with the developments told the paper.

Still, his aides told reporters that he was indeed still in South Africa and would leave at the conclusion of the African Union Summit. One aide said that Al-Bashir was not in a hurry to flee SA as he had been assured by government of diplomatic immunity prior to his arrival on Saturday evening.

On al-Bashir’s arrival in South Africa, the ICC asked the South African government to meet its international obligations by executing an arrest warrant against him. As Pretoria evaded, a human rights organisation – the Southern African Litigation Centre – brought an application to the North Gauteng High Court to compel the government to arrest al-Bashir.

Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes allegedly committed in the conflict in Darfur.

An estimated 300 000 people died in the war and another 2.5 million were displaced.

On Sunday, Judge Hans Fabricius ordered that the Department of Home Affairs ensure that all points of entry and exit be informed that Al-Bashir is not allowed to leave until the SA Litigation Centre's (SALC) application that South Africa arrest him, is concluded on Monday morning.

Justice department spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga told News24 on Monday morning: "As a legal team we move from the premise that he is still within the country as we are yet to verify these conflicting media reports."

The confusion about al-Bashir’s whereabouts started when Bloomberg News quoted Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman as saying, "the president finished his business in South Africa and is coming back home".

But a while later, the news agency reported that journalists had seen Al-Bashir at an African Union summit in Johannesburg.

Mhaga told News24: "We are still on course in finalising our papers to file by 09:00."

ICC biased against African leaders

Meanwhile, EFF leader Julius Malema says African leaders must stand up and defend Al-Bashir from being arrested.

Malema joined critics who claim that the ICC since its establishment has so far only targeted mostly African leaders while turning a blind eye to Western leaders involved in similar human rights violations as happened when the US and the UK led the invasion of Iraq and Libya.

“It can be that al Bashir is arrested by Africans to please imperialism. That should have ended with Ghaddafi.

“When is George Bush is going to be arrested when is Blair going to be arrested why is the ICC is not issuing a warrant of arrest against De Klerk the ICC is created for blacks only and not for the west. We agree we do not want dictatorship and that is an African problem. Let if be addressed in an African solution,” Malema said.

The ANC has reportedly also said that it was debating on whether South Africa should remain a signatory to the Rome Statute that governs the functions and mandate of the ICC.

Cannot be arrested yet 

According to the South African Institute of International Affairs, Al-Bashir cannot be arrested while still in Sandton, the area hosting the African Union summit, as he will still be under the jurisdiction of the organisation.

"As we know, because the AU was holding a conference in Sandton, that area has been declared as belonging to AU which is standard," spokesperson Hopewell Radebe told News24.

"So this means no SA police members can go there and arrest anyone for the duration of the conference."

The summit, which began last Sunday, is expected to end on Monday.

Radebe said if Al-Bashir was to be arrested it would either be once he had moved out of the Sandton area or after the summit had been declared over, depending whether he was still around by then.

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