Human Rights Watch glad Omar al-Bashir could finally face justice for grave international crimes in Darfur Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 1, 2021

Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that Sudan’s leaders’ agreement to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) could mean that former president Omar al-Bashir will finally face justice for grave international crimes in Darfur.

HRW said transferring the five Sudanese under ICC arrest warrants to the court would be “a major step toward accountability after years of obstruction and would signal the new transitional government’s commitment to achieving justice for all victims of abuses across Sudan”.

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“Victims and their families have waited more than 15 years for justice for widespread atrocities committed in Darfur,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Now they may finally see former president al-Bashir and the other ICC suspects in court.” 

Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council, announced the commitment on February 11, 2020. He told journalists at peace negotiations with rebel groups to end Sudan’s civil wars that the parties had agreed the ICC would be among the four mechanisms for transitional justice in Darfur, which will also include a special criminal court and truth and reconciliation in Sudan.  

“We agreed that everyone who had arrest warrants issued against them will appear before the ICC. I’m saying it very clearly,” he was quoted as saying.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the Sovereign Council confirmed the government’s commitment to cooperate with the ICC during meetings in Khartoum with Roth and Mausi Segun, the organization’s Africa director, on February 12.

General Abel Fattah al-Burhan, who chairs the Sovereign Council, told Human Rights Watch: “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.” He added: “[O]ur colleague announced yesterday…we will cooperate fully with the ICC.”

Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 after months of protests in Sudan, which government security forces dispersed violently, killing hundreds since December 2018 alone. Under Sudan’s power-sharing deal signed on August 17, 2019, the transitional government is headed by an 11-member Sovereign Council for a period of three years, followed by elections.

The transitional authorities had earlier insisted on trying al-Bashir in Sudanese courts instead of handing him over to the ICC. In December, al-Bashir was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of corruption and money laundering, but those did not relate to human rights violations or the grave international crimes for which he faces ICC charges. Sudan’s authorities have begun investigations into various other crimes and human rights violations since 1989, when al-Bashir’s government came to power.

At the ICC, al-Bashir faces five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide. These relate to allegations of murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, intentional attacks on the civilian population, pillage, and rape committed between 2003 and 2008 in Darfur.

There are outstanding ICC arrest warrants for four other Sudanese suspects for war crimes and crimes against humanity: Ahmed Haroun, former state minister for humanitarian affairs and former governor of Southern Kordofan state; Abdulraheem Mohammed Hussein, the former defense minister; Ali Kosheib, a militia leader; and Abdallah Banda Abakaer, leader of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement in Darfur.

The transitional government should urgently invite ICC officials to Sudan to discuss terms of cooperation and how to move forward with the prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said.

Based on research in Darfur in 2004 and 2005, Human Rights Watch found that the highest levels of the Sudanese leadership were responsible for creating and coordinating the government’s counterinsurgency policy in Darfur, which deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

In 2005, the United Nations Security Council mandated the ICC prosecutor to investigate crimes in Darfur under Resolution 1593. Since Sudan is not a member of the ICC, the prosecutor could not act without a request by the Security Council, or Sudan itself. The previous government, led by al-Bashir, obstructed all cooperation with the court, even though the Security Council had required its cooperation under Resolution 1593.

“For years, the al-Bashir government paralyzed prospects of accountability for crimes in Darfur,” Roth said. “Sudan’s new leadership will mark a new chapter of respect for human rights and justice by having the ICC suspects face justice.”

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