A court in South Africa has issued an order preventing Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, from leaving the country as calls are made for his arrest over alleged war crimes.
Bashir, who is in the country for a summit of African leaders, is wanted by the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague for alleged atrocities including genocide committed during the Darfur conflict.
The high court in Pretoria issued an interim order preventing Bashir from leaving South Africa until an urgent application to force authorities to arrest him is heard.
A court statement said it was “compelling respondents to prevent President Omar al-Bashir from the leaving the country until an order is made in this court”.
The application, launched by the Southern African Litigation Centre, a legal rights group, is to be heard later on Sunday.
Bashir was attending an African Union conference focussed on migration and unrest in Burundi. Since his indictment in 2009, he has mostly travelled to countries that have not joined the ICC, but South Africa is a signatory to the court’s statutes.
An ICC statement released on Saturday called on the South African authorities to execute two outstanding arrest warrants. It read: “The president of the assembly [of the ICC] expresses his deep concern about the negative consequences for the court in case of non-execution of the warrants by states parties and, in this regard, urges them to respect their obligations to cooperate with the court.
“To this end, he calls on South Africa, which has always contributed to the strengthening of the court, to spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants if the information received is confirmed.”
The summit is chaired by Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, who has urged African leaders to pull out of the ICC, but human rights groups expressed outrage that Bashir could openly defy arrest.
“Allowing President al-Bashir into South Africa without arresting him would be a major stain on South Africa’s reputation for promoting justice for grave crimes,” said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch. “South Africa’s legal obligations as an ICC member mean cooperating in Bashir’s arrest, not in his travel plans,.”
Darfur erupted into conflict in 2003, when insurgents mounted a campaign against Bashir’s government, complaining their region was politically and economically marginalised. More than 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict and about 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes, the UN says.