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South Africa's conduct 'disgraceful' in Bashir case, court says

The South African appeal court has blasted the government for allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to leave the country. The International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued a warrant for the leader's arrest.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) said the South African government's failure to arrest Bashir "was inconsistent with [the country's] obligations" to the ICC and, therefore, "unlawful."

The South African Litigation Centre (SALC) took the country's government to court for failing to arrest Omar al-Bashir while he was attending an African Union summit in Johannesburg last June.

The Sudanese president faces charges of masterminding genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, where 300,000 people were killed and two million forced to flee their homes - allegations which he denies.

'False assurances'

After an emergency order was obtained from the High Court during June's summit - ordering Bashir's arrest - South African government lawyers admitted he had flown out of the country just a few hours earlier.

The government subsequently asked the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to overturn the ruling, claiming that Bashir had immunity as the head of an African Union member state.

"The assurances that he was still in the country given to the (High) Court at the commencement and during the course of argument were false," the SCA judges said on Tuesday. "It was disgraceful conduct."

International outrage

South Africa's decision to allow Bashir to leave the country last summer sparked international condemnation. In response, Pretoria threatened to withdraw its membership from the Hague-based ICC.

Director of the SALC Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh hailed Tuesday's court ruling. "The government should seek to uphold the rule of law instead of shielding suspected war criminals and the Supreme Court of Appeal has made this clear today," Ramjathan-Keogh said.

The South African government made no immediate announcement on whether it would appeal against Tuesday's ruling.

ksb/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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