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Jun. 15 (GIN) – In a closely-watched meeting of African Union leaders, the presence of alleged war criminal Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan, neither produced an arrest or interference with his departure, outraging international rights activists and the International Criminal Court which is seeking his prosecution for the alleged massacre of civilians in Darfur in 2003.

President Al Bashir had taken part in the 3-day African Union Summit in Johannesburg not as a war criminal but as a respected delegate to the confab of leaders this past weekend. Few seemed concerned about the charges of abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity.

In addition, the Jacob Zuma administration declined to enforce an order by a South African High Court that called on authorities to prevent Mr. Bashir from leaving the country until Monday because of the pending ICC charges.

After the court announced it would rule on a request to arrest him, President al-Bashir posed for a group photo with other African leaders.

The media quickly filled with commentaries, pro and con, over this diplomatic upset.

Mehari Teddele Maru, specialist in international human rights and humanitarian law, in an article for Al Jazeera, wrote: “The ICC has come out looking like a toothless entity embroiled in political wrangling. It has further diminished its international image as an independent global body fighting the good fight.”

Orlando Crowcroft, editor of the UK-based International Business Times held a similar view in a piece titled “Omar al-Bashir failure yet another blow for 'toothless' International Criminal Court.”

The BBC’s Africa correspondent Andrew Harding laid out the dilemma: “South Africa has courted Western fury by rolling out the welcome carpet for President Bashir.

“But if Sudan's president is detained, or perhaps even arrested, then Pretoria will be accused of luring a fellow African leader into a trap. Some would call that a no-win situation.

“It's clear that South Africa's government has chosen to flaunt its growing antipathy towards "Western" rules, and towards a court in which so many African leaders now appear to have lost faith.”

Amnesty International called the government's failure to abide by its own court order "shocking" and a betrayal of the victims of the Darfur conflict.

"By failing to hand President Omar al-Bashir over to the ICC during his stay in the country, the South African authorities, under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, have, through their inaction, aided Omar al-Bashir in his quest to avoid justice," they wrote.

But Siphosezwe Masango, South Africa's chair of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, challenged that view, calling the court application to detain al Bashir “an opportunistic act meant to pit African leaders against each other.”

“The task at hand that ought to occupy Africans is to make Africa a better continent whose place on the global stage is respected,” he said in a interview.

"Government should be alert to opportunism by civil society organisations whose claim to legitimacy is to 'strengthen democracy by overseeing African governments' while the opposite is true,” he said.

On Monday, the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, added his voice to the debate. The International Criminal Court’s warrant must be respected by countries that have agreed to its statutes, he said. The warrant for arrest on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes is a matter I take extremely seriously, he said. w/pix of Pres. Al-Bashir at AU Summit

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