Darfuris rejoice as Sudan agrees to Bashir ICC extradition

Darfuris rejoice as Sudan agrees to Bashir ICC extradition

A pledge by the country's new authorities to finally deliver ex-president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court was met with joy across the country.
5 min read
16 February, 2020
Bashir ruled Sudan for some 30 years [Getty]

In Sudan's sprawling Camp Kalma, people who fled the Darfur conflict are overjoyed at a pledge by the country's new authorities to finally deliver ex-president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court.

Bashir, who was deposed in April 2019 following mass protests, has for the past decade flouted ICC arrest warrants on charges of genocide and war crimes in the ravaged Darfur region of western Sudan.

Sudan's transitional authorities agreed last Tuesday to transfer him to stand trial before the court based in The Hague.

"There was rejoicing across the camp after people heard Bashir is being handed over to the ICC," 65-year-old Adam Ali, a longtime resident of Kalma camp in Nyala, capital of South Darfur state, told AFP.

Darfuris and rebel groups have repeatedly demanded Bashir be handed over to the ICC over alleged war crimes in a conflict which according to the United Nations left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million others.

Read more: Little hope for change among Sudanese refugees fleeing violence in Darfur

Local community leader Yaqoob Mohamed said the decision was "a victory for the victims" and would go a long way towards "rebuilding trust" with the leadership in Khartoum.

Hundreds of thousands of those displaced by the conflict that broke out in 2003 in Darfur, a vast region made up of five states, still live in camps and remain dependent on aid provided by the UN and other international organisations.

The conflict erupted when African minority rebels rose up against Bashir's Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which they accused of marginalising the region.

To crush the rebellion, Bashir's government unleashed an armed militia of mostly Arab nomads known as the Janjaweed, who have been accused by rights groups of "ethnic cleansing" campaigns and widespread rape.

Thousands of the militiamen were later incorporated into Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by commander and current political powerbroker Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is known as Hemeti.

'Great relief'

The decision to surrender Bashir to the ICC came after protracted talks between rebel groups, including from Darfur, and Sudan's ruling body, which took power after Bashir's ouster and arrest.

Three of his aides, including former defence and interior ministers, are also to be handed over to the court, although a timeframe has not yet been announced.

"If Bashir and his aides are not handed to the ICC, peace will never find its way to Darfur," said Hassan Issac, another Darfuri living in Kalma.

Hassan Isaac Mohamed, a 72-year-old Darfuri, said he felt "relief" in the wake of a war that had decimated his family, killing his father and two brothers.

Government spokesman Faisal Mohamed told reporters on Wednesday that "details of how Bashir and others will be presented in front of the ICC will be discussed with the ICC and armed groups".

Rights groups such as Amnesty International are pressing for a swift handover of the toppled strongman.

Since its creation in August, Sudan's transitional government has been pushing to forge a peace settlement with rebel groups and to end conflicts across the country.

It has promised accountability and kept Bashir in Khartoum's Kober prison on a string of charges including corruption.

In December, the veteran leader was sentenced to two years in a community reform centre over accusations of illegally acquiring and using foreign funds.

He was removed from power after street protests against his rule broke out in December 2018 triggering unrest that left dozens dead, hundreds wounded and thousands jailed.

"We were relieved when Bashir fell but now we feel like we can finally start to recover from the impact of war," said camp resident Jamal Muhammed.

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General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of Sudan's transitional sovereign council, confirmed on Tuesday that the government will "fully" cooperate with the court but may ask for legal proceedings within Sudan.

"We agreed no one is above the law, and that people will be brought to justice, be it in Sudan or outside Sudan with the help of the ICC," Burhan was quoted as saying by Human Rights Watch.

Burhan didn't mention Bashir by name, according to the HRW statement. His comments came during a meeting with Kenneth Roth, HRW's executive director, and Mausi Segun, the group's Africa director Wednesday in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also confirmed the government's commitment to cooperate with the ICC, HRW said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Sudan's announcement could mean that al-Bashir "will finally face justice for grave international crimes in Darfur".

Bashir, 76, faces three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his alleged role in leading the deadly crackdown on a rebel insurgency in Darfur. The indictments were issued in 2009 and 2010, marking the first time the global court had charged a suspect with genocide.

The ICC has indicted two other senior figures in Bashir's regime: Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, interior and defense minister during much of the conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time and later the leader of Bashir's ruling party. Both have been under arrest in Khartoum since Bashir's fall. Also indicted were Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb and a senior Darfur rebel leader, Abdullah Banda, whose whereabouts are not known.

HRW said that transferring the five Sudanese under ICC arrest warrants to the court would be a "major step toward accountability after years of obstruction".

For a decade after his indictment, Bashir confounded the court. He not only was out of reach during his 30 years in power in Khartoum, but he also traveled abroad frequently to visit friendly leaders without fear of arrest.

Under Sudanese law, a person over-70 cannot go to prison. His sentence was also reduced due to old age, prosecutors said. 

He also awaits charges related to the 1989 coup that brought him to power, as well as the killing of protesters over the course of his rule. 

Human Rights Watch demanded the transitional government "urgently invite" ICC officials to Sudan to discuss terms of cooperation and how to move forward with the prosecutions.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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