JOHANNESBURG — A South African judge barred Sudan's indicted president from leaving the country on Sunday, in a deepening rift between Africa and the West over what Pretoria called anti-poor country bias in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
President Omar al-Bashir, visiting South Africa for an African Union summit, stands accused in an ICC arrest warrant of war crimes and crimes against humanity over atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict. He was first indicted in 2009.
A judge is expected on Monday to hear an application calling for Bashir's arrest, though this appears unlikely as South Africa's government has granted legal immunity to all African Union delegates.
South African President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress (ANC) responded furiously to Sunday's court order, accusing the Hague-based ICC of seeking to impose selective Western justice by singling out Africans.
"The ANC holds the view that the International Criminal Court is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended," the ANC said in a statement.
"Countries, mainly in Africa and Eastern Europe ... continue to unjustifiably bear the brunt of the decisions of the ICC, with Sudan being the latest example."
A human rights group, the Southern African Litigation Centre, earlier petitioned the Pretoria High Court to force the government to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir.
Judge Hans Fabricius postponed the hearing until Monday morning to allow the government time to prepare its case, urging South African authorities to "take all necessary steps" to prevent Bashir leaving the country.
Sudan's government defended the South African visit of Bashir, who was sworn in this month in Khartoum for another five-year term, and said the court order had "no value".
"We contacted South Africa in advance and informed them that the president would participate and they highly welcomed his participation," Sudan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kamal Ismail, told reporters in Khartoum.
"What is being mentioned in the media is a propaganda campaign against Sudan," Ismail added.
The conflict in Darfur has killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced 2 million, the United Nations says.
The ICC issued a statement asking Pretoria "to spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants".
It said the court's members had "deep concern" about the negative consequences if any signatory state failed to assist in detaining Bashir.
A foreign ministry spokesman in South Africa, which is an ICC signatory and therefore obliged to implement arrest warrants, did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.