Shielded by the authorities, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan flew out of South Africa on Monday morning aboard his presidential jet, just hours before a South African court ruled that the government was legally required to arrest him.
Mr. Bashir’s plane left a military airport near Pretoria, the capital, unhindered by the authorities who had already been ordered over the weekend by South Africa’s High Court to prevent him from departing.
Though South Africa is a member of the International Criminal Court, its government defied the longstanding arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir, who once again eluded international prosecutors seeking to try him on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.
His departure dealt a serious blow to the international court’s six-year campaign to bring him to justice. Mr. Bashir’s plane took off just as South Africa’s High Court was holding a hearing on whether the government was required to comply with the international court, which is based in The Hague.
In 2009, Mr. Bashir and three other senior Sudanese officials were indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The following year he was also charged with three counts of genocide.
The Arab-dominated Sudanese government is accused of trying to exterminate the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.
The court said Mr. Bashir should stand trial over the “essential role” he is accused of playing in the murder, rape, torture and displacement of large numbers of civilians.
After driving civilians off their land and killing many of them, militias would rape and impregnate women who took refuge in camps, prosecutors said.
The 2009 warrant for Mr. Bashir was the first in which the court, established in 2002, sought the arrest of a sitting head of state.
Lawyers continued to argue their case even after the Sudanese government made the proceedings moot by confirming that Mr. Bashir had left South Africa, a surreal scene that underscored the limits of the international court’s reach.
“The government’s failure to arrest Bashir is inconsistent with the Constitution,” Judge Dunstan Mlambo of South Africa’s High Court said on Monday afternoon.
But by then, Mr. Bashir, who had been in South Africa to attend an African Union meeting with other African leaders, was already halfway to Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.
Judge Mlambo said the government violated the South African High Court’s order to bar Mr. Bashir from leaving the country. The judge instructed the government to explain the circumstances behind Mr. Bashir’s departure.
After Mr. Bashir’s plane landed in Khartoum on Monday, he mounted the back of a pickup truck dressed in traditional white Sudanese clothing, waving his trademark walking stick.
Thousands of supporters greeted him with patriotic and traditional songs, carrying flags, placards, banners and even a makeshift coffin with the words “laying the International Criminal Court to its final resting place” written on its side.
“The International Criminal Court has been totally destroyed in Africa,” Sudan’s foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, said at a news conference at the airport.