Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan, secretly slipped out of South Africa Monday, narrowly avoiding arrest for gross human rights violations in the Darfur conflict.
A local court had ordered South African transit authorities to block him from leaving the country, while deliberating a measure that would require South Africa to comply with an international warrant on Bashir’s head.
But according to The New York Times, Bashir’s private jet freely departed Monday from a military airport in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital city. The escape came just hours before the court confirmed that it would proceed in arresting Bashir.
Sudanese government officials confirmed that Bashir would be landing in the country’s capital, Khartoum.
Bashir faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Darfur conflict, which began in 2003 and continues to this day. After an insurgency against Bashir’s administration in Khartoum, the Sudanese government carried out a massive ethnic cleansing campaign against non-Arabs, including civilians. The U.N. estimates that hundreds of thousands died in the government campaign.
The International Criminal Court has attempted to fulfill a warrant for Bashir’s arrest since first indicting him in 2009. He has rarely left Sudan in recent years, and on the occasions when he has, responsible countries have failed to comply with the warrant.
South Africa is among the 123 “state parties” to the Rome Statute, an international law that establishes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. But many African members of the ICC, including South Africa, have refused to comply with the court’s orders in the past, claiming that the court is disproportionately biased against African leaders. (RELATED: African Democracy Prize Awarded After 2 Years With No Worthy Winner)
Bashir was in South Africa for a summit of the African Union, a conference of national leaders on the continent.
The Pretoria High Court was weighing whether to fulfill the ICC arrest warrant when Bashir disappeared from the country Monday. Shortly after the government confirmed his escape, the South African judge upheld the now-moot arrest warrant.
For several hours on Monday, Bashir’s status in the country was unclear. The BBC reported that a South African government lawyer claimed the pariah president’s name was not on the flight’s list of passengers.
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