High noon for Bashir as Sudan junta changes tack on ICC

Tuesday April 16 2019

Omar al-Bashir

Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech on December 31, 2018, on the eve of the country's 63rd independence day, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum. PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY | AFP 

PETER MUNAITA
By PETER MUNAITA
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The Sudan governing military council has changed tune on the extradition of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Military council member Jalaluddin Sheikh said the decision would rest with the next civilian government, without indicating when this would be.

The council has maintained it would hand over power to a civilian government in two years.

The council had earlier said that Bashir and others indicted by the ICC would not be handed over by would be tried locally.

By deferring the decision, the military council has raised hopes Bashir would eventually face justice, one of the demands of protesters.

A civilian government would most likely release Bashir to face trial outside the country given the tribulations the opposition went through under his reign and pressure from the international community to do so.

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Were the council which has vowed to uproot Bashir’s regime sympathetic to his cause, it would have put him on trial before a civilian government ascends to power.

Darfur crimes

Bashir was first indicted by the Hague-based ICC in 2009 on war crimes charges over a long-running conflict in Darfur in western Sudan, but has escaped arrest.

The ICC charges against Bashir, which include a genocide allegation added in 2010, stem from a rebellion launched in Darfur in 2003.

Bashir's 30 years in power ended last week when the military ousted him after months-long protests that left dozens of demonstrators dead in clashes with security forces.

"The decision whether to extradite [Bashir] to ICC will be made by a popularly elected government and not the transitional military council," Sheikh told journalists during a visit to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

It is not clear whether his presence in Ethiopia, the seat of the African Union, was meant to assure the continental body of the council’s good intentions in the face of fears that it would entrench itself in power with time.

This has led global powers the US, the UK and Germany to ask the council to hold talks with the opposition for a transition to civilian rule.

AU warning

It was instructive that Sheikh spoke as the Africa Union dug in asking the military council to hand over power to a civilian administration in 15 days, failure to which Sudan would be excluded from AU activities.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) which issued the statement describing the transition in Sudan as a "coup d'Etat, which (the PSC) strongly condemns.”

It did not state what activities these would be and how Sudan’s absence would put the military council under pressure.

The UN says more than 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict, and more than two million displaced.

Bashir was the first sitting president of a country to be wanted by the ICC, and the first person to be charged with genocide.

Without a police force, the ICC relies on member states to carry out arrest warrants against suspects.

Despite two warrants against Bashir, he continued to travel with impunity to various countries in Africa and the rest of the world.

This included to ICC member states South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Jordan, which under the court's founding Rome Statute had an obligation to arrest him.

Independent figure

Sudanese protesters on Monday demanded the military council be disbanded despite its head General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan offering some concessions.

At a meeting with political parties on Sunday council member, Lieutenant General Yasser al-Ata urged them to agree on an "independent figure" to be prime minister, an AFP correspondent at the meeting said.

"We want to set up a civilian state based on freedom, justice and democracy," a council member, Lieutenant General Yasser al-Ata, told members of several political parties.

"We want the military council to be dissolved and be replaced by a civilian council having representatives of the army," said Mohamed Naji, a senior leader of the Sudanese Professionals Association.

The organisation which spearheaded since December last year protests leading to Bashir's fall also demanded the sacking of the country's judiciary chief and prosecutor general.

The council has not responded to the demands but, ominously on Monday, it tried to break a sit-in of protesters outside the army headquarters.

The only international commitment the council has given so far is that Sudanese troops will remain part of a Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen against Huthi rebels.

"We will stick to our commitment with the Arab alliance and our troops will remain until the alliance achieves its goals," Mohammad Hamdan Daglo, widely known as Himeidti, told the official SUNA news agency.

—Additional reporting by AFP.

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