Sudan’s leaders keep Omar al-Bashir from facing ICC charges

The most serious indictments facing him have been filed by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC)
Sudan's leaders keep Omar al-Bashir from facing ICC charges
A picture taken on November 21, 2017 shows the building of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

Driven from power after months of nationwide protests, Sudan’s former strongman Omar al-Bashir has been held in the capital’s grim Kober prison on a series of charges filed by prosecutors.

Those charges range from corruption to killing protesters, and on June 16 Bashir appeared before a prosecutor.

But the most serious indictments facing him have been filed by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC).

They include war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his alleged role in the war in Darfur.

The question remains whether Bashir will ever face the ICC for the crimes allegedly committed during his ironfisted 30 year rule. 

What charges does he face?

The army ousted Bashir on April 11 following protests that first erupted in December against a tripling of bread prices.

The veteran leader was accused of corruption, illegal possession of foreign currency, acquiring wealth illegally, financing terrorism, and wrongly ordering a state of emergency, according to prosecutors and state media.

The ruling generals who seized power after deposing Bashir have said that more than $113 million (99 million euros) worth of cash in three currencies were seized from his residence.

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If he is tried and found guilty of corruption, Bashir could face a “sentence of up to 10 years in prison,” according to leading Sudanese lawyer Nabil Adib.

In May, the former president was also accused of “inciting and participating in the killing of protesters” during mass demonstrations that led to his fall. 

Sudan’s public prosecutor has also said Bashir had been questioned for money laundering and financing terrorism

None of these charges have come to court yet and there is no official information on the progress of these cases. Bashir’s lawyer did not respond when contacted by AFP.

What happened in Darfur?

Adib said the charges filed by Sudanese prosecutors pale in comparison to those by the ICC.  

The Sudanese “investigation should have been directed first to the most serious crimes,” he said, referring to the ICC charges.

The ICC has issued several warrants for Bashir’s arrest. 

The conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, accusing it of marginalising the region economically and politically.

The United Nations says the conflict has left more than 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, with hundreds of thousands still living in miserable and impoverished camps more than a decade and a half later.

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The ICC contends that Bashir “played an essential role in coordinating” the design and implementation of the brutal counter-insurgency campaign in the region. 

The forces mobilised by Bashir in Darfur are also accused of a wide range of crimes, including raping thousands of women, pillaging towns and villages, and torturing and forcibly transferring people, according to the ICC.

The ICC has for years demanded that Bashir stand trial, and has renewed its call since his fall.

Could politics obstruct justice?

Sudan’s ruling generals have declined to hand Bashir over to the ICC.

Rights groups accuse the deputy chief of the new military council, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, of committing atrocities in Darfur. 

Dagalo heads the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has its origins in the notorious Janjaweed militias mobilised by Khartoum to fight the Darfuri rebels.

“Many human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have documented all these war crimes” committed by the militiamen since 2003, said Amnesty’s Sudan researcher Ahmed Elzobier.

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For the victims of Darfur, bringing Bashir to trial would be highly symbolic. 

“These people have lost their relatives — their sons and daughters, mothers, and fathers during the war,” Elzobier said. 

“They also want to see some justice to be done, then after that Sudan can move to reconciliation.” 

One ray of hope for holding Bashir accountable is the possibility of a civilian government coming to power in Sudan, experts say.

Authorities would then be able to seek ICC approval to try Bashir in Sudanese courts, according to Adib. 

Another option could be setting up hybrid tribunals comprised of Sudanese and international judges, he said. 

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