South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma (left) speaks with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir during the swearing in ceremony of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. [AFP]
War crimes judges will on Thursday hand down an eagerly anticipated ruling on whether South Africa flouted international law by failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2015, wanted for genocide in Darfur.
The landmark decision will serve as a blueprint for future co-operation between countries and the International Criminal Court, experts say.
It will also highlight that the tribunal based in The Hague can only function with the support of its member states and the backing of the UN Security Council.
“The ruling is… fundamental for future compliance,” said Carsten Stahn, international criminal law professor at Leiden University.
A decision against South Africa “would send an important message that states cannot negotiate (their) legal obligations with the court,” he told AFP.
Despite two international arrest warrants issued in 2009 and 2010, Bashir remains at large and in office amid a raging conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.
The long-time ruler has denied the ICC’s charges, including three accusations of genocide as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The deadly conflict erupted in 2003, when ethnic minority groups took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, which launched a brutal counter-insurgency.
The UN Security Council asked the ICC in 2005 to probe the crimes in Darfur, where at least 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, according to UN figures.
Bashir continues to travel and Khartoum announced on Monday he will visit Moscow for the first time in August following an invitation by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia formally withdrew its signature in November from the ICC’s founding Rome Statute, a treaty Moscow has never ratified.
Pretoria and the ICC became embroiled in a bitter tangle in 2015 when Bashir attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg.
Despite the arrest warrants, Bashir then flew home unhindered. It remains unclear whether he did so with the tacit approval of South African President Jacob Zuma’s government.
At a landmark hearing in April, Pretoria disputed accusations by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutors that it had broken its obligations to the very same tribunal it helped found in 2002.
Angry prosecutors stated Pretoria “had the ability to arrest and surrender Mr al-Bashir and it chose not to do so”.