By Janet Sankale
With its cabinet voting unanimously to ratify the Rome Statute, Sudan has taken a step that could bring former President Omar Al Bashir before the International Criminal Court to face trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
This is the latest change in Sudan’s relationship with the ICC, which deteriorated sharply in 2005, when the United Nations Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the Prosecutor.
The council asked the court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed since 2002 by Sudanese officials, Janjaweed militia, and rebel forces. Consequently, the court in April 2007 issued the first warrants of arrest. The case eventually included six people, among them then President Omar Al Bashir, in what has become known as the Sudan situation.
The other five were Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (the only one in the group whose case has proceeded to trial stage), Ahmad Harun, Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, Muhammad Hussein Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain (Abdallah Banda), and Bahar Idriss Abu Garda.
While Harun, Nourain, and Hussein are still at large, the Pre-Trial Chamber declined to confirm the charges against Garda and the case is considered closed until or unless the Prosecutor presents new evidence.
“Today, in our Cabinet meeting, we have unanimously passed a bill to join the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok announced on Twitter on August 3, 2021.
He added that the cabinet and the ruling council would hold a joint meeting to pass the bill into law. He did not give a date for the meeting.
Violence broke out in Darfur in 2003 when rebels protested what they contended was the Sudanese government’s disregard for the western region and its non-Arab population.
The government, under the leadership of Bashir, responded by equipping and supporting Arab militias – which came to be known as the Janjaweed – to fight the insurrection in Darfur. The militias also terrorised civilians and prevented international aid organisations from delivering to the region much-needed food and medical supplies.
Bashir has been accused of orchestrating genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. The ICC issued warrants of arrest against him on March 4, 2009, and July 12, 2010. He was removed from office in April 2019 and has been in Sudanese custody pending his transfer to the ICC, where his case remains at the pre-trial stage.
Since the overthrow of Bashir’s leadership, Sudan has been led by a joint military-civilian government. The transitional government has so far shown willingness to cooperate with the ICC and promised to hand over Bashir.
The approval of the bill to ratify the Rome Statute is a step towards justice and accountability and shows Sudan’s commitment to support the ongoing cases, including the one of former Janjaweed commander Abd-Al-Rahman, who is waiting to face trial, and Bashir, who has yet to appear before the ICC.
Prime Minister Hamdok emphasised his administration’s commitment to justice and accountability. “Justice & accountability are a solid foundation of the new, rule of law-based Sudan we’re striving to build,” his statement said.
Former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who visited Sudan during her last days in office, said Abd Al Rahman was the first person to appear before the court for crimes committed in Darfur but would not be the last. She urged the government of Sudan to hand over the other suspects wanted for war crimes and genocide in the Darfur conflict.
If the joint meeting of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council and the cabinet approves the bill to ratify the Rome Statute, Sudan will become the 124th member of the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court.