In a surprise move, Sudan's transitional government said on Tuesday it will extradite former leader Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on charges of genocide and war crimes from the Darfur conflict.
The nation's 11-member sovereign council, created last August to spread power among military and civilian members, announced it will cooperate with the ICC's outstanding arrest warrant and turn al-Bashir over for prosecution. The indictments against him in 2009 and 2010 marked the first time that The Hague, Netherlands-based court charged someone with genocide since its creation in 2002.
The announcement came from Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a council member and government negotiator, as part of the council's peace discussions with Sudan’s rebel groups in Darfur. The 76-year-old al-Bashir, now confined to a prison in Khartoum, faces three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes in connection with atrocities in Darfur.
“We agreed on four main mechanisms to achieve justice in Darfur. One, we agreed on the appearance of those whose arrests have been ordered in front of the International Criminal Court, and I'm saying that clearly," al-Taishi told a televised news conference in South Sudan's capital, Juba, where the discussions were being held.
“We cannot achieve justice unless we heal the wounds with justice itself,” he said, without mentioning al-Bashir by name or providing details on when he would be extradited. “We cannot, under any condition, flee from facing these crimes against humanity and crimes of war which were committed against innocent people in Darfur and other areas."
Through a lawyer, al-Bashir described the ICC as a "political court" and argued that the case should be dealt with in Sudan's judicial system, Reuters reported. Sudan’s military ouster of al-Bashir in April 2019 abruptly ended his 30-year authoritarian rule and triggered the possibility of bringing him to trial before the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal.
The ICC was set up as a court of “last resort” to step in when nations fail to prosecute the most serious crimes under international law: crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and aggression.
The court’s founding treaty – the Rome Statute – gave the U.N. Security Council, the most powerful arm of the world body, the ability to refer cases. China, Russia and the United States – three of the Security Council’s five permanent members – have not joined the ICC. The other two permanent members are Britain and France.
Atrocities against ethnic minorities
Sudan also is not among the 123 countries that ratified the treaty, but the Security Council granted the ICC jurisdiction over Sudanese war crimes in 2005, requiring Sudan and all other parties to cooperate.
In 2008, the ICC’s then-chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, formally requested an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Moreno-Ocampo filed charges against al-Bashir stemming from a crackdown that claimed 300,000 lives and drove 2.5 million people from their homes.
Even those who survived the crackdown were preyed upon by government-backed janjaweed militia and regular troops, Moreno-Ocampo said. Some nations that were ICC members refused to carry out the court’s international warrant for al-Bashir, saying it could undermine peace efforts in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
Moreno-Ocampo said al-Bashir “masterminded” the killing of 35,000 people in a plan to annihilate all three major ethnic civilian groups in Darfur — the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa peoples — using Arab militias and government soldiers. The ethnic rebel groups had launched an insurgency in 2003 against al-Bashir's Arab-dominated government.
For years, the United Nations urged nations to arrest al-Bashir so he could be brought to trial. He repeatedly and defiantly rejected the charges and authority of the global court, which has no police force or ability to enforce its orders without cooperation from governments. It also is independent from the United Nations.
He continued to visit ICC non-member nations, such as Ethiopia, where he was not likely to face arrest. In 2018, he attended the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That all changed when the military overthrew him amid huge public outcries against his 30-year iron rule.
"A decision to hand him over to the court would be a welcome step towards justice for victims and their families," Julie Verhaar, acting secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement. "It is a historic outrage that, despite being under arrest warrants for more than a decade, al-Bashir has evaded justice until now."