On 11 April 2019, President Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power in Sudan following protests that had rocked the country for 16 weeks. President al-Bashir’s resignation marked the end of a three-decade draconian rule, one of the longest in Africa.
Al-Bashir came into power through a military coup that toppled Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi’s government in 1989, when the country was in the midst of a 21-year old civil war between the North and the South. He left power as a result of a bloodless coup staged majorly by the country’s youth who felt disenfranchised by the deteriorating economy. Protestors sang revolutionary songs and marched in the streets calling for his resignation.
Al-Bashir has been wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since 2005 for the genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed during his rule in Darfur. The court first issued a warrant of arrest against him in 2009 and would later issue another warrant of arrest in 2010, making him the first ever head of state to have a warrant of arrest issued against them.
Since then, al-Bashir made several state visits to ICC member states contrary to the rules against hosting ICC fugitives. Although countries like South Africa attempted to enforce the warrant, efforts to arrest al-Bashir were futile. The ICC is an international court whose implementation greatly depends on state cooperation. Without the help of the Sudanese government to apprehend al-Bashir, the ICC’s hands remain tied since it cannot interfere with a state’s sovereignty in its efforts of the arrest.
Despite the various limitations, the ICC remains an important pillar of democracy. The court ensures that heinous international crimes do not go unpunished. The court acts as a deterrence to potential perpetrators. The provisions of the International Criminal Court Treaty (Rome Statute) do not grant immunity to heads of state. It checks the power of the most powerful, that even the heads of states, militaries, and government cannot get away with gross human rights violations.
In this case, the military council in Sudan which is the current head of government should surrender al-Bashir to the ICC for justice to be served. However, this may be very difficult as academic and Horn of Africa expert Alex de Waal remarks, “al-Bashir was a spider at the centre of an intricate web.” He says with near certainty that parts of the newly installed government are tainted with the crimes that Bahir is wanted for. Cooperation of the Court means that it has no choice but to agree with Sudan, it will not prosecute. It is tragic but we can only hope that the future brings justice for the crimes committed to Darfur and everywhere else in the world.
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