The International Criminal Court held a hearing Friday on South Africa’s refusal to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he visited the country in 2015. The ICC wanted South African authorities to detain and hand over the Sudanese leader, who is wanted on charges of genocide.
South Africa told the International Criminal Court it was under no duty to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he came to Johannesburg in 2015.
The ICC filed a complaint against South Africa for non-compliance after authorities there refused to detain Al-Bashir.
The legal representative for South Africa, Dire Tladi, told the court that South Africa has immunity clauses in every inter-governmental agreement for conferences.
“There is no duty in international law, in general and in particular under the Rome Statue, on South Africa to arrest of a serving head of an non-state party, such as Mister al-Bashir,” said Tladi.
One hundred twenty-four countries, including South Africa, are state parties to the Rome Statue, the agreement that grants the ICC its authority and jurisdiction.
The Sudanese president was on South African territory for two days during a summit of the African Union, hosted by South Africa. He hastily left the country from a military airport, after local courts and the ICC requested his arrest.
ICC prosecutor Julian Nicholls says South Africa’s non-compliance is so severe that the issue should be referred to the United Nations Security Council.
“The obligation to arrest and surrender a suspect wanted on ICC warrants is one of the highest obligations a state party has to the court,” he said. “Without state parties fulfilling that obligation, it’s impossible for the court to exercise its most important functions and powers, its ability to put on trial those for whose warrants have been issued for the most serious crimes of concerns.”
The ICC does not have its own police force and relies on states to arrest and surrender those who are warranted by the court.
Although Sudan never signed up to the ICC, a U.N. resolution referred the Darfur issue to the court in 2005. Prosecutors of the ICC charged al-Bashir with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide for his role in the long-running Darfur conflict, a western region of Sudan.
ICC judges are expected to make a decision about South Africa and its alleged non-compliance within the next three months.