The Government of Sudan recently announced that it was willing to hand over former President Omar Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court. Should this happen, Bashir will most likely be put on trial, with a high likelihood of conviction. The ICC accused Bashir of committing crimes against humanity in 2009 and then again in 2010, and there has been an outstanding warrant for his arrest ever since. He has been able to avoid arrest and extradition until now, although here have been occasions where countries under the jurisdiction of the ICC tried and failed to subdue him. Bashir was deposed last year in a military coup after months of protests, officially charged with corruption, and incarcerated.
While officials have declared that they intend to hand the ex-president over to the ICC, the details of where and how the trial will be carried out have yet to be finalized. Speaking to Reuters, Information Minister Faisal Salih said, “One possibility is that the ICC will come here so they will be appearing before the ICC in Khartoum, or there will be a hybrid court maybe, or maybe they are going to transfer them to The Hague…That will be discussed with the ICC.” Bashir’s lawyer declared that the ex-President would not cooperate with the ICC, as it would be a “political court”. This echoes the sentiments of a man who has long described the charges as being “not worth the ink they are written in.” Regardless of his opinion though, it would appear Bashir will finally face justice.
In the wake of the news, there has been talk of thawing political relations between the United States and Sudan. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently called for Sudan to be removed from the U.S list of state sponsors of terrorism. This would remove long-standing economic sanctions from the country and open it up to desperately-needed financial assistance. While U.S officials are doubtful that will be an immediate change in status, many expressed optimism and support for the new government of Sudan with one official stating, “Absolutely, the United States of America continues to support the transition process and the civilian-led transitional government.”
A list of all of Bashir’s crimes would be rather exhaustive. His first arrest warrant is for three counts of genocide against the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups. There are additional charges of war crimes as well as crimes against humanity. Bashir’s campaign in Darfur oversaw the deaths of three hundred thousand per UN estimates and the mass slaughter of noncombatants by the Janjaweed militia. He and his administration have demonstrated a callous disregard for the human rights of their citizens. The prosecution of the ex-president comes as a victory not only for the people of Sudan but for human rights organizations everywhere, a perfect example that no one is above the law.
Healing the country after thirty years of Bashir’s reign will take more than an indictment. It will take a real effort to bring about real political representation in the country. The military council established in the wake of the president’s overthrow, in coordination with a coalition of democratic organizations, has agreed to transfer power to a civilian government over a 39-month period. If the United States removes the economic sanctions placed on the country, then vital cash might also begin to flow back in. Although the future of Sudan remains uncertain, there is a sense of optimism in the air.
Bashir first came into power in 1989 when he deposed Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, establishing a military government that would last for thirty years. Bashir banned political parties, appointed himself president, and gradually absorbed the executive and judicial powers of separate branches into his own position. Much of his time in office was spent trying to pacify the southern and western provinces of his country. Having already dragged on for nearly 20 years before Bashir came into power, the second Sudanese civil war continued to rage during the early years of his reign as fierce fighting saw hundreds of thousands displaced in addition to casualties from the genocide in Darfur.
Whether a lasting peace can be achieved remains to be seen. Sudan is a country beset by deep ethnic and cultural divisions between its Northern and Southern provinces. Under Bashir, the government consistently favored the predominantly Arab north over the African-south. These long-standing regional divisions still exist and will likely persist for the next administration to contend with. If the country is to rejoin the international community and achieve a more prosperous future, than addressing these internal tensions will be a necessary step. It must be noted that Sudan is still in a fragile state and caution must be exercised to avoid slipping into conflict that could set the country back even farther.