June 24, 2015 / 2:20 PM / in 2 years

Judge suggests charging South African government over Bashir flight

PRETORIA (Reuters) - A South African judge asked prosecutors on Wednesday to consider charging the government over its decision to let Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir leave the country in defiance of legal orders from Pretoria and the International Criminal Court.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir prepares for a group photograph ahead of the African Union summit in Johannesburg June 14, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Bashir flew out of South Africa on June 15 as world powers and activists were urging the government to arrest him under a warrant from the global court on charges of masterminding genocide and other atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Bashir’s plane was allowed to take off even though a Pretoria court had issued an order banning him from leaving until the end of a hearing on his case.

“A democratic state based on the rule of law cannot exist or function if the government ignores its constitutional obligations and fails to abide by court orders,” High Court Judge Dustan Mlambo said in a televised statement in court.

“The departure of President Bashir from this country ... demonstrates non-compliance with the court’s order,” he added. “For this reason we also find it prudent to invite the National Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether criminal proceedings are appropriate.”

Bashir’s departure triggered a wave of criticism from Washington, other powers and rights campaigners who said it undermined the work of the Hague-based international court, set up to prosecute the most serious crimes when local courts fail.

South Africa’s government was due to issue an affidavit on Thursday explaining why it let Bashir go.

It had earlier said it had granted Bashir immunity to attend a summit in its territory. South Africa has also joined other African governments in accusing the court of anti-African bias.

All the court’s cases have so far only targeted African states and it has convicted just two minor African warlords since it started work in 2002.

Mlambo ended up ruling that South Africa should have carried out the global arrest warrant on June 15. But by the time he issued his decision, Bashir was already on his way back to Khartoum.

On Wednesday, Mlambo said South Africa had been wrong to offer Bashir immunity from prosecution - as a signed up member of the International Criminal Court, South Africa is bound to carry out its warrants.

Bashir has regularly dismissed the charges that he orchestrated crimes against humanity as he tried to crush an uprising in the western Darfur region.

The warrants, issued in 2009 and 2010, have restricted his travel, though he has made several trips to other countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Additional reporting by Tendai Dube; Writing By Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens

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