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Sudan's Omar al-Bashir Flies Home and Evades Arrest: Official

by Cassandra Vinograd /  / Updated 

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It ain't over until it's over.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir — wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity — appears to have dodged a legal bullet and again avoided facing trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Bashir has evaded arrest for years and was facing the toughest challenge to his freedom yet in South Africa, where he was attending an African Union summit when a judge barred him from leaving the country pending a hearing on whether to hand him over to the ICC.

Before the hearing was over, Sudan's State Minister for Information Yasser Youssef told Reuters that Bashir had flown home and was expected to land in the Sudanese capital Khartoum at about 6:30 pm local time (11:30 a.m.).

The news capped a series of conflicting reports on Bashir's whereabouts at the court hearing. At one point, the South African government said "to the best of our knowledge" the Sudanese leader was still in the country.

The legal wrangling was the latest in a long-running saga whereby Bashir's indictment — the only genocide charges against a sitting head of state — has become a test for the ICC and rallying cry against it from several African nations.

The international court issued one arrest warrant against Bashir in 2009 and another in 2010 for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes over atrocities in Darfur.

Bashir has danced around the arrest warrants for years, skipping visits to countries where he might face immediate arrest while visiting friendlier countries at will.

Image: President Omar al-Bashir
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the AU Summit in South Africa on Sunday.KIM LUDBROOK / EPA

The visit to South Africa — like Bashir's recent travel — drew condemnation from ICC member states and non-members such as the U.S. even before the judge blocked his departure.

The U.S. said it was "deeply concerned" over Bashir's travel to South Africa for the summit, and the ICC urged South Africa to "spare no effort in ensuring the execution of the arrest warrants."

Many African nations have been loathe to endorse the court amid the perception it disproportionately targets African leaders for indictment.

South Africa's African National Congress — the party of President Jacob Zuma — urged the government to challenge the judge's move to detain Bashir, saying the ICC is "no longer useful."

Most of Bashir's travel has been to non-ICC member states, however some members have allowed him to visit without facing arrest.

In 2013, ICC-member Nigeria drew fire for failing to arrest Bashir when he visited the country for a conference.

Bashir — who seized power in a bloodless 1989 military coup — was re-elected in April, though the U.S. said it didn't consider the vote's outcome to be a "credible expression of the will of the Sudanese people."

"The restrictions on political rights and freedoms, the lack of a credible national dialogue, and the continuation of armed conflict in Sudan’s periphery are among the reasons for the reported low participation and the very low voter turnout," the State Department said at the time.

More than 300,000 people have died in the Darfur conflict dating back to 2003, according to United Nations figures. Around 2 million have been displaced.

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