KHARTOUM: Sudan will hand longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court along with two other officials wanted over the Darfur conflict, officials said yesterday. Bashir, 77, has been wanted by The Hague-based ICC for more than a decade over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region.
The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur conflict, which erupted in the vast western region in 2003. The “cabinet decided to hand over wanted officials to the ICC,” Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Mahdi was quoted as saying by state news agency SUNA, without giving a timeframe.
The cabinet’s decision to hand him over came during a visit by ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan, but it still needs the approval of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, comprised of military and civilian figures. Yesterday, Khan met with the leader of the sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, as well as Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, its deputy chair. Daglo said Sudan “is prepared to cooperate with the ICC,” SUNA reported.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who also met with Khan, said yesterday that “Sudan’s commitment to seek justice is not only to abide by its international commitments, but it comes out of a response to the people’s demands”. But it remains unclear if Bashir would be extradited to face trial in The Hague, or could remain in Sudan. Volker Perthes, UN Special Representative to Sudan, said yesterday that the ICC “can help” with the “establishment of (a) Special Court for Darfur”, without giving further details.
The transitional authorities have previously said they would hand Bashir over, but one stumbling block was that Sudan was not party to the court’s founding Rome Statute. But last week Sudan’s cabinet voted to ratify the Rome Statute, a crucial move seen as one step towards Bashir potentially facing trial.
ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah did not comment on the announcement, saying Khan was “in Khartoum to discuss cooperation matters”, but that the prosecutor would hold a press conference today afternoon. Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades before being deposed amid popular protests in 2019, is behind bars in Khartoum’s high security Kober prison.
He is jailed alongside two other former top officials facing ICC war crimes charges – ex-defense minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein and Ahmed Haroun, a former governor of South Kordofan. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, later adding genocide to the charges. Bashir was ousted by the military and detained in April 2019 after four months of mass nationwide protests against his rule.
The former strongman was convicted in Dec 2019 for corruption, and has been on trial in Khartoum since July 2020 for the Islamist-backed 1989 coup which brought him to power. He faces the death penalty if found guilty. Sudan has been led since Aug 2019 by a transitional civilian-military administration, that has vowed to bring justice to victims of crimes committed under Bashir.
The Darfur war broke out in 2003 when non-Arab rebels took up arms complaining of systematic discrimination by Bashir’s Arab-dominated government. Khartoum responded by unleashing the notorious Janjaweed militia, recruited from among the region’s nomadic peoples. Human rights groups have long accused Bashir and his former aides of using a scorched earth policy, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
Khartoum signed a peace deal last October with key Darfuri rebel groups, with some of their leaders taking top jobs in government, although violence continues to dog the region. But after years of conflict, the arid and impoverished region is awash with automatic weapons and clashes still erupt, often over land and access to water. Last year, alleged senior Janjaweed militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd Al-Rahman, also known by the nom de guerre Ali Kushayb, surrendered to the court, where he faces charges of murder, rape and torture. – AFP