The conflict in Sudan could provide its former president Omar al-Bashir some breathing space and delay his journey to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The conflict that started on April 15 between Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has now diverted attention from Bashir, whose transfer to The Hague awaits the formation of a new transitional government that is now in limbo.
Head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on April 23 released thousands of inmates from Kober Prison for lack of food and security, including Ahmed Haroun, a former Bashir official who is also wanted at the ICC for his role in the atrocities in Darfur from 2003 to 2007.
However, Bashir and his former top officials have been moved to an undisclosed place. The conflict provides Bashir a second chance to delay his transfer to The Hague.
His first delay was in October 2021 when his former allies Gen Burhan and Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo staged a coup that stalled his transfer, after the transitional government led by former Sudan prime minister Abdalla Hamdok signed an agreement with ICC in August 2021 to handover the former president to the ICC.
Bashir not a focus
Joseph Ocheino, a commentator on African politics based in London, says that Bashir will not be the focus as the region and the international community are desperately pushing for the stability of Sudan as the first priority.
“The conflict has created a buffer for Bashir. This is in addition to the reality that the Sudanese national army and the RSF are not necessarily fully anti-Bashir. Only a post-conflict Sudan involving civilian players as key and with a subordinate army answerable to civilian leaders will influence the fate of Bashir,” said Ochieno.
Of similar view is Jervasio Okot, a South Sudan Political Analyst living in Kenya, who says that Bashir may not go to The Hague in the near future because he is not only protected by the military, but it will take a long time for Sudan to get a legitimate government capable of effecting his transfer to ICC without a backlash.
While the civilian pro-democracy movements have been pushing for the handover of Bashir and his co-accused to The Hague since he was ousted in April 2019, Both Burhan and Dagalo have been resisting the transfer.
Gen al-Burhan was the commander of the ground forces in Darfur before Bashir promoted him to the post of inspector-general of the army in February 2019, while Gen Dagalo was in 2013 appointed the leader RSF, an offshoot of the defunct Janjaweedmilitia that committed atrocities in Darfur.
After the October 2021 coup, Gen Burhan has always maintained that the issue of the transfer of al-Bashir to The Hague will be undertaken by elected government. Bashir is serving a jail term for the 1989 coup that brought him to power.
In 2021, the ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, signed an agreement with the then Hamdok-led Sudan government to move forward in the cases against those accused of atrocities in the Darfur region.
The ICC issued two arrest warrants against Bashir in March 2009 and July 2010. However, Sudan refused to cooperate because it was not signatory to the Rome Statute and the African countries who were supposed to arrest him when he visited refused to comply, including Kenya and South Africa.
Bashir faces the charges of five counts of crimes against humanity committed between 2003 and 2008 in Darfur, Sudan.
Yasir Zaidan, a lecturer in international affairs at the National University of Sudan, said that Bashir in 2013 created RSF as his protection against military coups that could emerge from other security forces. He said that in 2017, Bashir brought the paramilitary RSF under his direct control, often referring to Gen Dagal as ‘my protection’.
He later said the group developed a financial arm independent of the state’s financial institutions as it took control of one of the largest gold mines in Sudan and established companies that export gold directly to international markets.
Zaidan says that while both Gen Burhan and Gen Dagalo facilitated the removal of Bashir in 2019 and Islamist allies of Bashir have been returning to positions of influence in Sudan since the October 2021 military coup instigated by both generals.
“Many in Sudan see the possible release of Bashir as the logical next step in the reassertion of power by the old guard,” he said.