By Millicent Zighe.
Victims of human rights abuses have expressed relief following Sudan’s decision to hand over former President Omar –Al Bashir to the International Criminal Court.
The ousted leader is wanted by the Hague based court for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Western Darfur. Bashir together with other senior officials facing same charges have since denied the accusations.
Majority of the victims blame Bashir for the civil war that has claimed 300,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people. The killings of mostly black Muslims, were carried out by the Janjaweed- an Arab militia group trained by Bashir to crush opponents. Atrocities attributed to the group include murder, rape, and torture, looting economic resources and vandalizing property.
In one case documented by Voice of Africa, Mohammed Eisa, currently living in Kalma Camp, revealed that he was only 12 years old when militias attacked his village in Eastern Darfur, killing his father, cousins and forcing the rest of the family to flee to neighbouring countries. He believes ICC can deliver justice to the victims of genocide and historical repression, not to mention refugees and displaced people.
Jamal Ibrahim from Mershing in the mountainous Jebel Marra area, harbors the same sentiments. His sisters were sexually assaulted by Arab militia men in Darfur soon after conflicts erupted. Like Eisa, he considers the country’s pledge to deliver Bashir to ICC as a step towards justice for victims and their families.
“Two of my sisters were raped in front of my eyes by militiamen who stormed through our village, setting our houses on fire. Bashir and his aides who committed the crimes in Darfur must be handed over to the ICC if peace is to be established in the region.” Ibrahim told AFP at Kalma camp.
Rights defenders have continued to commend the country’s top leadership on its latest achievement. In a statement released by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) and the Sudan Human Rights Monitor (SHRM), the organisations called the move a first measure of justice since the outbreak of the conflict at Darfur in 2002 where victims are yet to receive reparations. Additionally they urged Sudan sovereign council to follow its announcement with concrete operational and legal arrangements necessary for the surrender of all suspects.
“Despite feeling abandoned by the international community, victims in Darfur never stopped fighting to see the day justice triumphs over impunity. The fight continues, but this is a first step towards recognizing that victims have a right to justice and reparation for the horrific crimes committed,” said Mossaad Mohamed Ali, ACJPS Executive Director.
“The people of Sudan have waited far too long to live in a country where the norms of humanrights, democracy and accountability prevail. Addressing the crimes of the past through a transitional justice process is a key ingredient in moving forward towards rebuilding the country on the basis of the rule of law.” added the Secretary General of SHRM Magdi El Na’im.
Nonetheless some Bashir supporters feel handing him to ICC goes against the sovereignty of the country. His lawyer Zain al-Abdeen Mohammed insists that Sudan courts are qualified to try the toppled leader.
“If there’s any accusation against the former president, the trial should be in Sudan as there’s an independent judiciary system,” he said. “The alleged crimes in the Darfur conflict, including genocide and war crimes, are included in Sudanese law. Binding Sudan to the International Criminal Court is not a legal issue but a political one, and they will legally resist it,” he said.
Miriam Saleh, another victim of the Darfur conflict disagrees saying, “Let him be taken to the International Criminal Court because people were killed, people were burned, and we did not have a place,”
The debate over the best way to prosecute the former rebel leader continues to rage with Sudanese Professional Association (SPF) the latest to deem local courts not fit to try him. SPF led the large scale protests in 2019 which resulted to Bashir’s removal from power after 30 years of autocratic rule.
The United Nations referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in March 2005. Three months later, the court started the first ever investigations for a non-signatory state. However to date none of the perpetrators have been brought book.