Sudan to hand over al-Bashir for genocide trial

CAIRO (AP) — Sudan’s transitional authorities have agreed to hand over ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face trial on charges of war crimes and genocide, a top Sudanese official said on Tuesday, in a deal with rebels to surrender all those wanted in connection with the Darfur conflict.

For a decade after his indictment, al-Bashir confounded the court based in The Hague, Netherlands. Not only was he out of reach during his 30 years in power in Khartoum, but he also travelled abroad frequently to visit friendly leaders without fear of arrest.

He even attended the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he kicked a soccer ball playfully during an airport welcome ceremony and watched matches from luxury seating.

The military overthrew al-Bashir in April 2019 amid massive public protests of his rule, and he has been jailed in Khartoum since then. Military leaders initially ruled out surrendering him to The Hague, saying he would be tried at home.

But the joint military-civilian Sovereign Council that has ruled Sudan since last summer has agreed with rebel groups in Darfur to hand over those wanted by the ICC to face justice in The Hague, according to member of the Council and Government Negotiator Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi.

Sudan’s autocratic former President Omar al-Bashir sits in a cage during his trial on corruption and money laundering charges, in Khartoum, Sudan on August 24, 2019. PHOTO: AP

He didn’t mention al-Bashir by name, but said, “We agreed that everyone who had arrest warrants issued against them will appear before the ICC. I’m saying it very clearly.”

He did not say when they would be handed over.

“We can only achieve justice if we heal the wounds with justice itself,” he said. “We cannot escape from confronting that.”

He spoke at a news conference in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, where the government and multiple rebel groups are holding talks to end the country’s various civil wars, including Darfur.

In the Darfur conflict, rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency in 2003, complaining of oppression by the government in Khartoum.

The government responded with a scorched-earth assault of aerial bombings and unleashed militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and abuse. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.

Al-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. 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 his regime: Interior and Defence Minister Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein during much of the conflict, and Senior Security Chief Ahmed Haroun at the time and later the leader of al-Bashir’s ruling party. Both have been under arrest in Khartoum since al-Bashir’s fall.

Also indicted were Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb and Senior Darfur rebel leader Abdullah Banda, whose whereabouts are not known.

Al-Taishi also said that the transitional authorities and the rebels agreed on establishing a special court for Darfur crimes that would include crimes investigated by the ICC.

ICC spokesman Fadi Al Abdallah said the court had no comment until it received confirmation from Sudanese authorities. However, he said the country would not have to ratify the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, before sending al-Bashir to The Hague.

“There is an obligation for Sudan to cooperate” with the court’s arrest warrants, he said.

“The ratification of the Rome Statute itself is not a requirement for the surrender of suspects.”

Another member of the Sovereign Council said the government delegation to the Juba talks has a “green light” from military leaders in the council, including its Head of Military General Abdel Fattah Burhan to announce that Sudan will hand over al-Bashir.

“We want to reassure the armed groups that we are serious and want to achieve peace as soon as possible,” he said.

The Sovereign Council member also said any extradition “might take months” because he is wanted for other crimes in Sudan related to the “revolution” and the extremist-backed military coup in 1989.

The decision could face a backlash from within Sudan’s military, from which al-Bashir emerged, and also from extremists in the country.

Al-Bashir’s lawyer Mohammed al-Hassan warned that handing him over would have “dire political and security repercussions” for Sudan. He said he hoped Burhan “keeps his obligation that al-Bashir or any Sudanese won’t be handed over to the International Criminal Court”.

“This matter will not happen easily,” he told the AP by phone.