Sudan inches closer to handing over ex-dictator for genocide trial

Voting on January 10, 2011 in Juba, Sudan, during the 2011 referendum that brought independence to South Sudan. (Photo: NYTimes)
NAIROBI, Kenya — The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, in his first visit to the capital of Sudan, said Thursday that he was hopeful the Sudanese government would turn over former President Omaral-Bashir to face charges of genocide and war crimes in the region of Darfur.اضافة اعلان

Al-Bashir, 77, was ousted two years ago and has been imprisoned since then. He has been wanted by the international court in The Hague, Netherlands, since 2009 over atrocities committed by his government in Darfur, where at least 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million displaced in a war from 2003-08, the United Nations estimates.

The court has been pressing Sudan’s transitional government, which took over after al-Bashir was deposed, to hand him over along with other leaders accused of crimes in Darfur.

It will not be an easy decision.

The transitional government is made up of both civilian and military leaders, and some of those military leaders, once allied with al-Bashir, were also implicated in the atrocities in Darfur, a western region. If he is extradited, he might give evidence that could expose them to prosecution.

But Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, struck a note of hope Thursday at a news conference in the capital, Khartoum.

“There is from my meeting today a lot of cause for optimism,” Khan said. “This is a very critical moment for Sudan. We cannot march from the darkness into light without dealing with some of the issues and injustices of the past.”

If al-Bashir is turned over for trial, it will mark a major step in the nascent Sudanese government’s efforts to heed demands for justice, holding those responsible for the abuses to account and ending decades of impunity.

Al-Bashir, an army commander, came to power in Sudan in 1989 after ousting the democratically elected government. For the next three decades, he ruled with an iron fist, overseeing a government that restricted media freedoms, curtailed human rights, crippled economic growth and waged war on its own people.

On Wednesday, Sudan’s foreign minister, Mariam al-Mahdi, said the civilian Cabinet had agreed to extradite al-Bashir after meeting with Khan, according to the state-owned Sudan News Agency.

The foreign minister’s announcement Wednesday came days after the Cabinet voted to ratify the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC. That inched the northeast African state closer to fully joining the court and increasing the likelihood that al-Bashir would face trial.

Khan said Thursday that the international court had also signed a memorandum of understanding with Sudan’s government to ease the exchange of information related to the cases against al-Bashir and other Sudanese that are pending in the court.

Khan said that he had not discussed a date for al-Bashir’s extradition but that the country’s leadership would meet next week to take up the issue. He said they had welcomed his request to have a permanent team from the international court work in Khartoum.

While president, al-Bashir oversaw a vicious campaign in the western region of Darfur, where rebels took up arms after accusing his government of political and economic marginalization.

The enormous toll of death, displacement and human suffering led the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for him in 2009. The court accused him of being responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, including murder, torture and rape, allegations that he has rejected over the years.

The Sudanese courts convicted al-Bashir of money laundering and corruption charges in late 2019 and sentenced him to two years in detention. He still faces charges related to the 1989 coup and could be sentenced to death or life imprisonment if he is convicted.

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