Sudan says to 'hand over' Bashir for international war crimes trial

Khartoum, SudanUpdated: Aug 11, 2021, 10:20 PM IST
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File photo. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Omar al-Bashir, 77, has been wanted by the ICC for more than a decade over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region

Sudan will hand longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court along with two other officials wanted over the Darfur conflict, Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi said Wednesday.

Bashir, 77, has been wanted by the ICC for more than a decade over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region.

The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur conflict, which erupted in the vast western region in 2003.

The "cabinet decided to hand over wanted officials to the ICC," Mahdi was quoted as saying by state news agency SUNA, without giving a time frame.

The cabinet's decision to hand him over came during a visit to Sudan by ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan, who met with Mahdi on Tuesday. 

But the decision still needs the approval of Sudan's transitional ruling body, the sovereign council, comprised of military and civilian figures.

On Wednesday, Khan met with the leader of the sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, as well as Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, its deputy chair.

Daglo said Sudan "is prepared to cooperate with the ICC," SUNA reported.

ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah did not comment on the announcement, saying Khan was "in Khartoum to discuss cooperation matters", but that the prosecutor would hold a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

The transitional authorities have previously said they would hand Bashir over, but one stumbling block was that Sudan was not party to the court's founding Rome Statute.

But last week, Sudan's cabinet voted to ratify the Rome Statute, a crucial move seen as one step towards Bashir potentially facing trial.

'Horrific crimes'

Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades before being deposed amid popular protests in 2019, is behind bars in Khartoum's high security Kober prison.

He is jailed alongside two other former top officials facing ICC war crimes charges -- ex-defence minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein and Ahmed Haroun, a former governor of South Kordofan.

The Hague-based ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, later adding genocide to the charges.

Bashir was ousted by the military and detained in April 2019 after four months of mass nationwide protests against his rule.

The former strongman was convicted in December 2019 for corruption, and has been on trial in Khartoum since July 2020 for the Islamist-backed 1989 coup which brought him to power. He faces the death penalty if found guilty.

Amnesty International has previously called for Bashir to be held accountable for "horrific crimes", referring to the genocide in Darfur.

Vow for justice

Sudan has been led since August 2019 by a transitional civilian-military administration, that has vowed to bring justice to victims of crimes committed under Bashir.

Khartoum signed a peace deal last October with key Darfuri rebel groups, with some of their leaders taking top jobs in government, although violence continues to dog the region.

The Darfur war broke out in 2003 when non-Arab rebels took up arms complaining of systematic discrimination by Bashir's Arab-dominated government.

Khartoum responded by unleashing the notorious Janjaweed militia, recruited from among the region's nomadic peoples.

Human rights groups have long accused Bashir and his former aides of using a scorched earth policy, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.

In July, a peacekeeping force completed its withdrawal from the war-ravaged region.

But after years of conflict, the arid and impoverished region is awash with automatic weapons and clashes still erupt, often over land and access to water.

Last year, alleged senior Janjaweed militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, also known by the nom de guerre Ali Kushayb, surrendered to the court.

ICC judges said in July he would be the first suspect to be tried over the Darfur conflict, facing 31 counts including murder, rape and torture.