SUDANESE President Omar al-Bashir left South Africa as confidently as he flew in, well before a court there ordered his arrest on war-crimes charges, and made a triumphant entry home.
State television showed Bashir waving energetically to hordes following his remarkable weekend outing south. Dressed in his traditional white robes, Bashir waved his cane in the air as he stepped off the plane in Khartoum.
He then drove around outside the airport in an open-topped car amid a crowd of around 1,000 supporters.
Bashir’s “participation (at the summit) confirms the president is one of Africa’s leaders,” Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour told a new conference.
That he visited unhindered had placed South African authorities in a fix, analysts say, though his departure mid-hearing left the courts miffed and civil society clutching at straws.
A South African judge on Monday criticised the government for allowing him to leave the country in defiance of a court order.
“The conduct of the respondents to the extent that they have failed to take steps to arrest and detain the President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir is inconsistent with the constitution of the Republic of South Africa,” Judge Dunstan Mlambo said.
Mlambo, part of a full bench, said it was of ‘concern’ that he had left despite the order barring his departure.
The country would have had to defy its own judiciary, or risk the wrath of other African nations if it had complied with the High Court order to arrest him. As it were, it was Bashir who had the last laugh, as he left with the AU’s blessing.
Judge Hans Fabricius had told the government Sunday to keep Bashir in South Africa while he decided whether to order the Sudanese leader’s arrest for two International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments for alleged atrocities in the Darfur region.
The saga suggests South Africa’s priorities are shifting towards Africa, with its ruling party having criticised the ICC as currently constituted.
Bashir arrived to attend the African Union summit in Johannesburg on June 13, after President Jacob Zuma’s administration published a notice granting all attendees immunity.
A signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, South Africa’s obligations to arrest al-Bashir contradict the pledge it made to the AU, said Dirk Kotze, a politics professor at the University of South Africa.
“It’s an absolute lose-lose situation,” Kotze had said by phone from Pretoria, the capital. “They are really in a fix. If they do arrest him, they will probably be criticised by most other African countries. I think they will probably let him go.”
Gauteng High Court Judge President Dunstan Mlambo convened a full bench to hear the case, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, said in an interview.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) said on its Twitter account Sunday that it “holds the view that the International Criminal Court is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended.”
The court case was brought by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, a Johannesburg-based human-rights group.
Al-Bashir would stay in South Africa until the end of the summit, Rabie Abdel Ati, senior official in Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, had said late Sunday in a text message.
“Immunity of all presidents participating in summit as declared by South African government will make the court order void,” he said.
Al-Bashir’s plane had been moved to Waterkloof air force base in Pretoria from O.R. Tambo International Airport, east of Johannesburg, South Africa’s Talk Radio 702 reported Monday, without saying how it got the information, before reports filtered through that he had left.
The South African government’s lawyer, William Mokhari, told the judges that he had “been informed by the government that they have reliable information that President al-Bashir has departed from the republic”.
Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations, didn’t respond to telephone calls or messages seeking comment.
“Al-Bashir is a fugitive from justice,” Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for Africa, had said in an e-mailed statement.
The SA government would have sought to avoid the political complications that would stem from detaining al-Bashir, according to Shadrack Gutto, a law professor at the University of South Africa.
“The courts can rule that he shouldn’t leave,” Gutto said by phone from Pretoria. “It’s the government that will have to prevent him from leaving. I don’t see the government arresting him. The matter will go on appeal and by the time it is resolved, he will have left the country.”
It all went according to script.