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Court In South Africa Detains Sudan's President On War Cimes

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Even if you lead a country, you are not immune from charges of crimes against humanity - at least so says the International Criminal Court. But in a case involving Sudan's president, the court's power is being tested. His name is Omar al-Bashir, and he's accused of leading a genocidal war in Darfur. Yesterday, Bashir appeared in legal trouble. Because of the international arrest warrant, a court was blocking him from leaving South Africa, where he was attending a summit of African leaders. Reports now suggest he has flown out of South Africa. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Johannesburg and joins us on the line.

Ofeibea, good morning.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

GREENE: So what do we know about President Bashir and where he is?

QUIST-ARCTON: The Sudanese are telling us that he has left South Africa and will be home shortly in a few hours. It's very difficult to get out of the South African officials whether President al-Bashir is gone. But it looks as if he took a plane that was seen with a Sudanese flag flying out of Waterkloof military base a few hours ago. So it looks as if he's gone in defiance of the court order that said he should not leave the country on Sunday.

GREENE: Yeah, in defiance of a court order yesterday that said he was not allowed to leave, which appeared like it was on the verge of a victory for the International Criminal Court potentially if he remained in the country and could be arrested, right?

QUIST-ARCTON: I don't know whether we can say that, but the court case is still being heard as we speak. But yesterday, Judge Hans Fabricius said that President Bashir should not leave the country because of this application by a South African rights group asking for him to be arrested and handed over to the ICC. But I have to say, David, that although in the past South Africa has had a diplomatic word in the ear of President Bashir and told him not to come to South Africa because, of course, it is a signatory to the Rome Treaty, which established the International Criminal Court. This time, South Africa said come and that all the heads of state invited to the African Union Summit here in Johannesburg had diplomatic immunity.

GREENE: Because he had been so careful in the past about his traveling, knowing that there was the possibility of this happening but got immunity here and so came to the summit. Ofeibea, can you just remind us why the court has gone after him so aggressively?

QUIST-ARCTON: He is facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes because of the situation in Darfur. About a decade ago, if you remember, David, every day, there was a story from Darfur. And the fact that the janjaweed - these devils on horseback as I'm told that it translate in the local Arabic - who were said to be the militias - Arab militias of President al-Bashir, were terrorizing and killing - in inverted commas - black Sudanese in Darfur. And it was in 2009 that these charges were - that the ICC charges were held against President Bashir.

GREENE: Ofeibea, in just a few seconds we have left, I mean, if he did indeed fly out of a military base, presumably the South African government allowed that to happen, what does that say about the South African government's level of respect for the International Criminal Court and its work?

QUIST-ARCTON: That South Africa seems to have changed its mind. And it's not just South Africa. I have to tell you that the African Union - the leaders of the African Union have instructed member states not to cooperate with the ICC, which they say is anti-African, anti-poor, singling out African leaders. And why hasn't it gone after the likes of George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Netanyahu in Israel because they are war criminals, say many Africans.

GREENE: We're out of time, Ofeibea. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.