As a Pretoria High Court judge prepared to rule on Monday on whether South African authorities must arrest visiting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, there was still confusion about whether he was still in the country.
Several newspapers, mostly quoting Sudan’s Information Minister in Khartoum, reported on Monday that Bashir had fled South Africa after attending the first day of the AU summit in Sandton on Sunday.
But a South African official, who declined to be named, said he was still in the country.
Bashir participated in the official opening of the summit and was still in the summit venue after 8pm when he attended a meeting of the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development concerning the crisis in South Sudan.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, who is also at the summit, told journalists that Bashir would remain in South Africa until the summit ended on Monday.
And the Sudan Tribune is quoting Ghandour as telling Sudan state TV that South Africa’s International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane had assured Bashir that he would not be arrested, no matter what Judge Hans Fabricius ruled today.
The online paper said that Ghandour told state TV that the minister had informed the Sudanese delegation that opposition parties had moved the case against Bashir in a “small court” and that they asked them not to worry about it.
“The foreign minister of South Africa, assured us that they are proud of the participation of President al-Bashir and that they are responsible for protecting him, adding that this (issue) belongs to them and their opposition and we must not be concerned about it” Ghandour was reported as saying.
“The Sudanese diplomat asserted that Bashir himself is not worried about this and will return home as planned after completing his programme of work,” the Sudan Tribune said.
An ambassador of another country confirmed that Nkoana-Mashabane had given Bashir that assurance.
Nkoana-Mashabane’s spokesman, Clayson Monyela, declined to comment on this statement on Monday.
If Bashir has already left, the South African government would already be in breach of an interim order issued by Fabricius on Sunday, compelling the authorities to keep him in the country until he has given his judgment on whether he should be arrested.
Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague, for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against some of the tribes of Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
Two warrants of arrest were issued against him in 2009 and 2010.
As a member of the ICC, South Africa is obliged to arrest him and surrender him to the ICC.
But this is also a domestic legal obligation because South Africa has domesticated ICC law into its own ICC Implementation Act.
The case before the Pretoria High Court was not brought by the political opposition but by an NGO, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch said on Sunday: “No matter what happens over the next 24 hours, it’s a historic development that today a domestic judge issued an order limiting the movements of a sitting president due to his alleged role in grave crimes - genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The prospects for justice may advance slowly, but they are advancing. Bashir has been far from being able to have business as usual at this AU summit.”