South Africa will consider withdrawing from the International Criminal Court as a "last resort" following a dispute over a visit by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for alleged war crimes, the government said Thursday.
The South African Cabinet is reviewing the country's status as a signatory to the statute that set up the international court, the government said in a statement. It cited "contradictions" in the statute and said South Africa would have found it difficult to arrest al-Bashir because of treaty obligations to the African Union.
Al-Bashir was in South Africa for an AU summit. He left for Sudan on June 15 despite a South African provincial court order that he should remain in the country while judges deliberated on whether he should be arrested for alleged crimes linked to the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
The court then ruled that al-Bashir should indeed be arrested, but the Sudanese leader had already left.
On Wednesday, Dunstan Mlambo, a South African judge, said the government had not complied with the original order that al-Bashir should stay in the country.
"For this reason, we find it prudent to invite the national director of public prosecutions to consider whether criminal proceedings are appropriate," the South Africa-based African News Agency quoted Mlambo as saying.
Some African leaders say the International Criminal Court has unfairly targeted African heads of state. The African Union said delegates to the summit in Johannesburg had immunity.
James Stewart, deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said last week that South Africa had been obligated to arrest al-Bashir.
The International Criminal Court's charges against al-Bashir stem from reported atrocities in Darfur in which 300,000 people were killed and 2 million displaced in the government's campaign, according to U.N. figures.