Sudan’s military leader reverses self on handing al-Bashir to ICC for trial

“Whoever committed a crime in Darfur, especially against the displaced people, would be tried and held accountable,” al-Burhan said.
President of the Sudanese Transitional Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, attends an army exercise on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum on October 30, 2019. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Sudan’s military ruler, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Thursday said the top decision-making body in the country, the Sovereign Council will not rule out the possibility of sending top officials within and outside government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try those who committed crimes in Darfur region.

In a veiled reference to former President Omar al-Bashir, al-Burhan warned that anyone who had in the past committed crimes against Darfurians would be held accountable in Sudan including at the ICC, a departure from his earlier views that al-Bashir will not be handed to the ICC for trial.

“Whoever committed a crime in Darfur, especially against the displaced people, would be tried and held accountable,” al-Burhan was quoted as saying in a Sovereign Council statement released in Khartoum.

Bashir and ICC arrest warrant

The ICC had in March 2009 issued a warrant of arrest against then President al-Bashir for allegedly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur region. In 2010, a charge of genocide was added to the arrest warrant. Countries that are signatory to the ICC were by the arrest warrant expected to effect his arrest whenever he leaves Sudan.

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In 2015, al Bashir escaped justice after stealthily running away from an African Union meeting held in Johannesburg, South Africa following the earlier charges slammed on him by the ICC.

South Africa’s highest court had issued an arrest warrant sought by civil society groups in line with the ICC charges, since the country was a signatory to its convention, but Bashir quietly slipped out of the country after his private jet was apparently cleared for takeoff by the South African government of Jacob Zuma, narrowly escaping yet another episode in the ICC’s six-year struggle to bring him to justice.

On the surface, Bashir’s escape was a demoralizing defeat for the ICC, which had ordered South Africa, as a signatory to the Rome Statue that set up the court, to detain Bashir and hand him over to The Hague.

Zuma’s government had refused to arrest Bashir, arguing that African Union (AU) rules protected visiting heads of states from arrest or prosecution during summits.

After his ousting in April, the former Sudanese leader was last week sentenced to a two year jail term for corruption by a Khartoum court. Prosecutors are also investigating Bashir and the plotters of the June 30, 1989 coup, on charges of undermining the constitutional authority and overthrowing a democratically elected regime with a military coup. The convictions are punishable by life imprisonment or execution.

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Burhan reverses comment on campaigns for ICC trial

Al-Burhan’s latest statement comes on the heels of Sudan’s effort to get itself off the US list of countries sanctioned for sponsoring terrorism. He had initially refused the pressure to handover suspects to the ICC. Burhan was quoted by several media as saying that his government did not want to extradite Bashir to the ICC.

“The Sudanese judiciary is independent and enjoys the confidence of everyone to ensure the prosecution of anyone,” al-Burhan had said. But the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a strong civil society group that took part in the revolution that ousted al-Bashir strongly criticized the statement.

Spokesman for the Forces, Wajdi Saleh said al-Burhan was responsible for his statements. He cited an agreement between the transitional government, civil and military officials on applying international and national justice against figures suspected of committing crimes against the Sudanese people, as stipulated in the constitutional document governing the transitional period.

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The change in the military leader’s views may not be unconnected with the criticism. His statement on Thursday included an apology to the displaced people of Darfur, upholding their involvement in peace talks and highlighting the importance of restoring their rights and ensuring a quick return to their villages.

Sudan’s Darfur region has been witnessing a civil war since 2003, which displaced over 2 million people with thousands killed by government and anti-government forces.

With current peace talks among rebel groups in Darfur and other parts of the country, Sudan is gradually changing its posture to meet requirements for being taken off the US list so that it can have access to international finance for development projects. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok reiterated this on his recent trip to Washington.

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