By Millicent Zighe
Sudan has agreed to hand over former leader Omar al Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face war crime charges, announced the country’s transitional authorities on Tuesday.
Speaking during a news conference in Juba, South Sudan, Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi- a member of the joint military sovereign council confirmed the news saying, “We agreed that everyone who had arrest warrants issued against them will appear before the ICC. I’m saying it very clearly. We cannot only achieve justice if we heal the wounds with justice itself. We cannot escape from confronting that.”
Bashir has evaded prosecution for over a decade after the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber first issued an arrest warrant in March 2009- first ever for a sitting president -for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur during Sudan’s military campaign which took place between 2003 and 2008. The second arrest warrant was issued in July 2010 adding three counts of genocide in relation to crimes against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Statistics from United Nations (UN) show the violence has claimed lives of nearly 400,000 people, mostly non-Arabs. A further 2.7 million have been displaced.
“There is an obligation for Sudan to cooperate with the court’s arrest warrant. The ratification of the Rome Statute itself is not a requirement for the surrender suspects,” said ICC spokesperson Fadi Al Abdallah.
Despite being a wanted criminal Bashir contested in 2010 and 2015 elections and ultimately clinched victory. Claims that both elections were marred by irregularities soon dominated airwaves sparking a boycott from opposition parties. However he did not step down.
The former rebel leader is said to have travelled over 70 times to other countries including those that are signatories of the ICC. His 2018 trip to Moscow, Russia sparked criticism after he was seen watching the World Cup finals match from luxury seats together with other heads of states. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since accused the UN Security Council of failing to take action against countries that have failed to arrest the leader.
During an interview with Associated Press (AP) his lawyer Mohammed Al Hassan warned that handing the leader to the court will have “dire political and security repercussion” for Sudan. He hopes the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan will keep his obligation that al- Bashir or any Sudanese won’t be handed over to the ICC.
Nonetheless the move to turn over Bashir to ICC has been lauded by human rights defenders with many calling it the cornerstone for justice and reconciliation.
“The fledging post-Bashir Sudan government is demonstrating serious commitment to human rights principled in its first month in the office. Finally seeing small measures of justice done for the mass atrocity crimes in Darfur will hopefully breathe new life into global efforts in support of Human rights and genocide prevention,” John Prendergast, expert and cofounder of the Sentry watchdog group told AP.
Amnesty International acting secretary General Julie Verhaar said: “The Sudanese authorities should translate these words into action and immediately transfer al-Bashir and other individuals (facing ICC arrest warrants) to The Hague.”
“Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC over the murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape of hundreds of thousands of people during the conflict in Darfur. A decision to hand him over to the court would be a welcome step towards justice for victims and their families, “he added
Bashir was overthrown by the military in April 2019 following large scale protests. He is currently serving jail time after a court in the capital Khartoum convicted him of corruption charges including illegal possession of foreign currency and illicit financial gain. Bashir will be handed over after he completes his three year sentence.
The leader has repeatedly denied his alleged involvement in war crimes and even went ahead to blast ICC for being a “political court that’s part of a Western conspiracy”.