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Omar al-Bashir’s handover to the ICC: what message does it send to Arab leaders?

Mohammed Al Rumaihi

Published: Updated:

The Sudanese leadership seems to have settled on handing former President Omar al-Bashir and several of his aides to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for a genocide trial, which is a heavy charge that may require years of litigation.

The Sudanese leadership has many motives for this move, such as refraining to engage in a local trial that might dissatisfy some Sudanese parties, and, as such, skirting the possibility of renewed conflict, division, and perhaps infighting. Another motive is dealing with the international community as expected, especially since Sudan could use all the goodwill and assistance it can get from the world. Al-Bashir’s last meeting with an Arab leader was with Bashar al-Assad in mid-December 2017, a few days after protests erupted in the streets of Sudan and prompted a change in the system of governance. The meeting infuriated both the Syrian and the Sudanese opposition at the time. Al-Bashir was seeking an ally in the “resistance” camp to secure support from Iran, which supposedly shares his ideology of governing with wide margins. However, Tehran could not afford the heavy political and economic burden that came with al-Bashir.

Omar al-Bashir and his party ruled Sudan for three lean decades, during which he went into a merciless war with the South, before ceding after all resources were consumed. South Sudan had been given much moral and political impetus since President Jaafar Numeiri issued laws in 1983 announcing Islamic sharia rule and proclaiming himself the “Imam of Muslims,” as an escape from the dire reality that Hassan al-Turabi had painted for him. That was the starting point of the rift between North and South, which was aggravated by the so-called “Salvation Revolution” in 1989, which al-Bashir described as a “pre-coup coup” in supposedly secret recordings that Al-Arabiya acquired of talks between al-Bashir and his relatives.

Al-Bashir added that he pre-empted another coup on Sudanese democratic rule in 1989 by a group of Sudanese Baath officers who ended up being executed, as he proudly announced in the recordings. It was only after the latest popular uprising, which bore its fruits in April 2019 after many sacrifices, that their graves were revealed.

South Sudan leaders have been mockingly cited as saying that it would not be too unlikely if statues of the great Salvation leaders were erected in Juba, the southern capital, to honor their gracious contribution in pushing the South to fight against their graceless behaviors.

In Darfur, a contact point in the so-called Francophone Africa, where raw materials (particularly oil) abound, tribes fought bloody wars in which the al-Bashir government also took part. When the conflict became protracted, the al-Bashir government agreed to the deployment of peacekeeping troops after having committed massacres against the region. Today, it is precisely because of these acts that al-Bashir is being handed over to the ICC.

Should this extradition happen, al-Bashir would be the first Arab former president to undergo international trial, hence the significance of this handover. What this means is that Sudan would set a precedent, or at least, the international community would consider it as such to demand the handover of all those who committed genocides against their people. In fact, there is an international trial precedent in the Arab world, which is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established to look into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. However, this was a special tribunal, whereas the ICC, established in 2002, is the first institutionalized international court to try individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, as per the Rome Statutes.

In our region, there is no shortage of those who can be accused of committing “crimes against humanity,” but the ICC Statutes has stipulated some tough conditions for the Court’s work, perhaps necessitated by the requirement that investigations into the acts committed by the accused be completed in the local jurisdiction before handover to the ICC. In this regard, the Sudanese leadership seems to have done its homework.

Should Omar al-Bashir and his associates appear before the ICC, the region will witness major shock waves. Arab leaders who have taken part in the bloodshed of their people in the past few decades will rush to hide evidence and witnesses. Some may even take their caution to the next level, especially given the looming risk that the trial unveil the facts and truth about who aided and supported the committal of the Darfur crimes -- and perhaps others. The courtroom discussions may even touch on the ideological basis on which these crimes were perpetrated, seeing as al-Bashir’s was not only a military regime, but also an ideological one whose slogans were used to commit some heinous crimes against others.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.

Read more:

Sudan to hand former president Bashir to International Criminal Court: Minister

Omar al-Bashir ally would prefer ICC to Sudan court for Darfur trial

Omar al-Bashir trial defense keeps up fire against Sudan prosecutor

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