Why former Sudan president Omar al-Bashir must not escape justice
Omar al-Bashir may have been deposed as President of Sudan after three decades of deeply repressive rule, but he has still not faced justice for the litany of grave human rights violations and crimes under international law he allegedly committed while in power.
ICC arrest warrant
Al-Bashir is one of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) longest-running fugitives. The Court has issued two arrest warrants for the former Sudanese leader - the first on 4 March 2009 and the second on 12 July 2010. He stands accused of criminal responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide following the killing, maiming, and torture of hundreds of thousands of people in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
The Darfur conflict
Darfur has been the setting of a bloody conflict that has persisted since 2003 and continues to this day. An exact figure for the civilian death toll as a result of the conflict is unconfirmed, but some estimates have put it in excess of 500,000. The situation in Darfur was referred to the ICC in 2005 by the UN Security Council. The ICC charges against al-Bashir relate to events that took place between 2003 and 2008.
The charges against al-Bashir
The ICC issued arrest warrants for al-Bashir on the basis that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity, he has committed genocide against the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. These groups were perceived to be close to the armed groups fighting the government. In all, al-Bashir faces five counts of war crimes, two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of genocide in Darfur.
Horrific human rights violations
The charges against al-Bashir relate to human rights violations carried out by his security forces including the Sudanese army and their allied Janjaweed militia, the police and the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). The ICC says there are reasonable grounds to believe that al-Bahir played an “essential role” in organizing these groups.
During the campaign in Darfur, these forces were allegedly responsible for numerous unlawful attacks against civilians - mainly from the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups. These included the murder of thousands of civilians, the rape of thousands of women, the torture of countless civilians, the pillaging of towns and villages and the forcible transfer of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Accusation of genocide
The ICC says a core component of the Sudan government’s campaign against armed groups, in particular the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, was the unlawful attack on the civilian population of Darfur - mainly the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups.
Al-Bashir is accused of being responsible for pursuing the extermination of these groups. The Court found that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Omar al-Bashir acted with specific intent to destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups”.
In 2016, an Amnesty International investigation gathered horrific evidence of the repeated use of what were believed to be chemical weapons used against civilians, including very young children, by Sudanese government forces in Jebel Marra region of Darfur. The scale and brutality of these attacks, which would also amount to war crimes rivals those previously investigated by the ICC. Amnesty International continues to document human rights violations carried out by Sudanese forces in Darfur.
A fugitive from justice
All parties to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC are obliged under international law to arrest al-Bashir if he sets foot in their country. However, during his presidency al-Bashir travelled extensively throughout Africa and beyond without ever being arrested. South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Chad, Malawi, the Central African Republic, Egypt and Jordan are among the countries that al-Bashir has visited without facing arrest.
Time to act
It is an international scandal that al-Bashir has continued to evade arrest, and a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of victims of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
It is now imperative that the transitional military authorities in Sudan hand over al-Bashir to the ICC and allow the many victims of the Darfur conflict to finally get justice.