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S.Africa seeks more time from ICC to explain Bashir saga

The South African government said Monday it had asked for more time from the International Criminal Court to explain why it defied an order to arrest Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir.

The Hague-based ICC had given South Africa until October 5 to defend its failure to arrest Bashir when he arrived in the country to attend an African Union summit in June.

Bashir is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes related to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The government has argued that Bashir had immunity from arrest because he was visiting the country as the head of a member state of the African Union.

Pretoria said the decision to ask for more time was taken in light of “complex and conflicting legal principles involved, both in international and in South African domestic law”.

The government acknowledged that the ICC had warned in advance of Bashir’s visit that it was under an obligation to arrest him,the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement.

But when South Africa “approached the court with a view to consult” it was “not afforded the opportunity to present legal arguments”.

“South Africa is of the view that a serious infringement of South Africa’s rights as a State Party has taken place and that the court has acted against the letter and spirit of the Rome Statute,” the statement said.

South Africa plans to press for the issue of immunity for serving heads of states of countries like Sudan, which are not party to the Rome Statute, to be discussed at a meeting of the ICC’s political body to be held at The Hague next month.

The decision by South Africa not to arrest Bashir sparked international condemnation, which was met with a threat from Pretoria to withdraw its membership with the ICC.

But Monday’s statement said the government remained committed to international criminal justice and cooperation with the court.