Sudan May Hand Omar al-Bashir to I.C.C. Over Darfur Atrocities

Sudan May Hand Omar al-Bashir to I.C.C. Over Darfur Atrocities
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Sudan May Hand Omar al-Bashir to I.C.C. Over Darfur Atrocities

Sudan May Hand Omar al-Bashir to I.C.C. Over Darfur Atrocities

NAIROBI, Kenya – The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, during his first visit to the capital of Sudan, said on Thursday that he hoped the Sudanese government would hand over former President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to deal with charges of genocide and war crimes in the Darfur region.

Mr. al-Bashir, 77, was ousted two years ago and has been in jail since then. He has been wanted by the International Tribunal in The Hague since 2009 for atrocities committed by his government in Darfur, where at least 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million displaced in a war from 2003 to 2008, according to estimates by the Nations. United.

The court pressured the Sudanese transitional government, which took over after Mr. al-Bashir’s removal from office, to hand him over with other leaders accused of crimes in Darfur.

It will not be an easy decision.

The transitional government is made up of both civilian and military leaders, and some of these military leaders, once allied with Mr. al-Bashir, have also been implicated in the atrocities in Darfur, a western region. If he is extradited, he could testify which could expose them to prosecution.

But Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, gave a note of hope Thursday at a press conference in the capital, Khartoum.

“There are many reasons for optimism from my meeting today,” Khan said, adding: “This is a very critical moment for Sudan. We cannot move from darkness to light without facing some of the problems and injustices of the past. “

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If Mr. al-Bashir is handed over to trial, it will mark a major milestone in the nascent Sudanese government’s efforts to respond to demands for justice, hold those responsible for the abuses to account and end decades of impunity.

Mr. al-Bashir, an army commander, came to power in Sudan in 1989 after overthrowing the democratically elected government. For the next three decades, he ruled with an iron fist, overseeing a government that restricted media freedoms, curtailed human rights, crippled economic growth, and waged war on its own people.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi on Wednesday said the civilian cabinet agreed to extradite Mr. al-Bashir after meeting with Khan, according to the state-run Sudan News Agency.

The foreign minister’s announcement on Wednesday came days after the cabinet voted to ratify the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC that brought the North East African state closer to the court and increased the likelihood of Mr. al-Bashir being tried.

Khan said on Thursday that the International Court also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sudanese government to facilitate the exchange of information related to cases against Mr. al-Bashir and other Sudanese who are pending before the court. .

Mr. Khan said he had not discussed a date for Mr. al-Bashir’s extradition, but that the country’s leaders would meet next week to address the issue. He said they welcomed his request to have a permanent team from the international tribunal working in Khartoum.

While president, al-Bashir oversaw a vicious campaign in the western region of Darfur, where rebels took up arms after accusing his government of political and economic marginalization.

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The enormous number of deaths, displacement and human suffering led the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for him in 2009. The court accused him of being responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, including murder, torture and rape. , allegations he has dismissed over the years.

Sudanese courts found Mr. al-Bashir guilty of money laundering and corruption in late 2019 and sentenced him to two years in detention. He still faces charges related to the 1989 coup and could face a death sentence or life imprisonment if convicted.

On Wednesday, the US State Department welcomed the news that the Sudanese foreign minister had signaled the cabinet agreement to the transfer of Mr. al-Bashir. State Department spokesman Ned Price urged all parts of the government to work together “to finalize and implement this decision.”

The international tribunal does not try the suspects until they are arrested and sent to The Hague, which means that the case against Mr al-Bashir remains at the preliminary stage.

Last year, a ruling council member said Mr. al-Bashir could be extradited. Many Sudanese observers then doubted that would happen, given the lingering discord between the military and civilian arms of the government and how close some of the council’s military leaders were to Mr. al-Bashir.

But in recent days, some military leaders have signaled their readiness to cooperate with the tribunal. Those insurance even came from General Mohamed Hamdan, also known as Hemeti, the first vice-president of the transitional council. He was a close ally of Mr. al-Bashir and led a paramilitary force accused of committing widespread atrocities in Darfur.

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Yet while some segments of the military may have agreed to cooperate with the International Court, there may still be pockets of staunch resistance, said Jihad Mashamoun, a UK-based Sudanese researcher and political analyst.

“The surrender of Mr. al-Bashir may give rise to a lot of questions and expectations on the part of the government to surrender high-ranking officials if anything is proven against them during the legal process,” Mr. Mashamoun said. .

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