Arrest Sudan’s Ousted War Criminal Dictator
Out of self-interest, Sudan’s military should turn over Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court
Andy ReiterApr 15
For the past five months, Sudan has faced mass street protests, much like the Arab Spring. Last week, just days after similar demonstrations forced the resignation of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria, the Sudanese military seized control of the government, arresting former president Omar al-Bashir. But it now faces a critical dilemma: what to do with him?
The military should hand al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to stand trial at its headquarters in The Hague. Doing so would solve some of the new regime’s most pressing political problems and provide an important first step for a country that desperately needs to change direction. At the same time, it would strengthen international human rights and help the ICC at a pivotal moment in its short history.
During his 30-year rule, al-Bashir committed countless human rights violations. Armed conflict was the norm as the country fought wars in the Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, and the area that is now South Sudan. The most egregious crimes occurred in Darfur, where the Janjaweed and other militias, armed and supported by the government, carried out what is widely considered genocide against the local population. In 2008, the UN reported over 300,000 killed, but violence has continued and the number now is likely much higher. Another 300,000 Darfuris live in refugee camps in eastern Chad.
Trying national leaders for these types of crimes is why the ICC was created. The 1998 Rome Statute came into force on July 1, 2002, empowering the court to investigate and prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in and by countries that are party to the statute. But the UN Security Council reserves the right to refer any state to the court, even those that have not signed on, as it did with Sudan, a non-party, in March 2005. Following an investigation, the court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir in 2009 for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur, and expanded those charges to include genocide in 2010.
Al-Bashir has flaunted the warrant. The ICC does not have an enforcement arm, and relies on member states to arrest and hand over indicted individuals. Claiming immunity as a head of state, al-Bashir has attended numerous regional and African Union summits, and made high profile visits to more than a dozen countries, including China and India. Frustratingly for the court, no foreign government has been willing to arrest him.
Helping the Sudanese Military
Out of self-interest, Sudan’s new military rulers should turn al-Bashir over to the ICC. It is not uncommon for deposed dictators to try to re-seize power, and he and his National Congress Party still have significant support within the country. Al-Bashir also had substantial backing from Saudi Arabia and was bolstered by Russian military contractors. The military says Sudan will transition to democracy, and that’s more likely to succeed if al-Bashir is gone. And if the military reneges on the promise to hold elections, it will find it easier to maintain power without al-Bashir as a possible alternative.
Additionally, the new regime can use al-Bashir’s trial to prevent scrutiny of its own behavior. The military was complicit in many of the human rights violations committed during al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. If they hold elections, they will pass a self-amnesty law first, protecting themselves from prosecution. Yet amnesty laws are increasingly being overturned by new democratic governments, leading to high profile trials in Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries.
That scenario is less likely to play out in Sudan if someone has already been held accountable for the country’s crimes, and even less likely if the Sudanese people and the international community see the military aiding human rights activists in those efforts. And if the military is more confident about its own security going forward, it will be more willing to turn the state over to civilian leaders rather than cling to power itself.
Finally, turning over al-Bashir would signal that the new government will respect global norms and cooperate with international institutions, paving the way for reduced sanctions and increased foreign aid, loans, and investment. The new regime also has a personal incentive to reduce international pressure — the initial leader of the coup, General Awad ibn Ouf, is on the U.S. sanctions list himself.
Helping the ICC
Putting al-Bashir on trial would give the ICC a much needed boost. Despite some high profile indictments, including Muammar Gaddafi, Joseph Kony, and Laurent Gbago, there have been only eight convictions so far. South Africa attempted to pull out of the ICC, but was blocked by domestic courts. Burundi and the Philippines have successfully withdrawn.
The court also faces hostility from the Trump administration, especially National Security Advisor John Bolton. While the United States has never been a member of the court, the Obama administration provided it with tacit support, going as far as suggesting al-Bashir could be arrested if he traveled to the U.S., forcing him to cancel a trip to the UN in 2013. By contrast, Bolton gave a high-profile speech denouncing the ICC as “fundamentally illegitimate.” And in response to the court’s investigation into human rights violations in Afghanistan, the U.S. has revoked the visa of chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and announced it will deny visas to ICC personnel involved in the case. The ICC backed down, prompting criticism from human rights organizations.
A high profile success would counter these developments and help the court establish legitimacy on the world stage. Sending al-Bashir to The Hague to stand trial would be a win for Sudan, the Sudanese military government, the ICC, and international human rights.https://arcdigital.media/for-its-own-go ... 249d86d342