Sudan fortifies road to ex-leader’s genocide prosecution

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The announcement came during a visit by the International Criminal Court’s new prosecutor, Karim Khan, to the northeast African country.

An expanded memorandum of understanding will pave the way for the International Criminal Court to prosecute former Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes, the court’s newly installed prosecutor announced Thursday.

“We hope to accelerate prosecutions, but even to accelerate in a Ferrari … is not instantaneous,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told reporters gathered in Khartoum. The Hague-based court first issued an arrest warrant for the ex-president in 2009 over the genocide orchestrated against non-Arabs in Darfur, a western region of the country.

Al-Bashir has been jailed in Sudan on corruption charges, but his two-year sentence is set to expire just before what will be his 78th birthday on Jan. 1.

The Sudanese government, which came to power after ousting al-Bashir in a coup, has promised several times before to turn al-Bashir over to the ICC, the world’s only permanent court for atrocity crimes. It did so again one day before Khan’s announcement, with Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi telling state-run news agency Suna that the government planned to let the ICC take custody of al-Bashir.

Khan noted Thursday that the ICC would have permanent staff in Sudan in an effort to facilitate the prosecution. Having only just started in his role in June, the prosecutor was in Sudan on an official visit. “The prosecutor and his delegation are in Khartoum to discuss cooperation matters,” court spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah told Courthouse News.

Al-Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989 and ruled the country with an iron first for more than three decades until he was overthrown in a popular uprising, following years of deteriorating economic conditions. He has been charged with 10 counts of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes for directing Sudanese troops and government-backed militias to commit murder, torture and rape during the War in Darfur. It was the first time a sitting head of state had been charged by the court.

The United Nations Security Council referred the conflict to the court for investigation in 2005. Normally the court only has jurisdiction in countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the court in 2002.

Last week, the Sudanese cabinet signed the treaty, but it must still be ratified on by a joint military-civilian body known as the Sovereign Council. “Justice and accountability are a solid foundation of the new, rule of law-based Sudan we’re striving to build,” Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Twitter when the treaty was signed.

The court has issued six arrest warrants related to the conflict. One trial of man, an ex-militia leader named Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, is currently underway. Charges were confirmed against two other men, Saleh Mohammed Jerbom, who was killed in the conflict in 2013, and Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain, who voluntarily appeared before the court in 2010 but is now missing. Charges against another man, Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, were not confirmed in 2010.

“Sudan should not hold onto ICC fugitives in defiance of its international obligations because of the transitional government’s aspiration to one day try these suspects on ICC crimes. That approach serves neither the victims nor the government,” Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The War in Darfur, nicknamed the Land Cruiser War as both sides frequently used Toyota Land Cruisers, left more than 300,000 dead and 3 million people displaced during nearly two decades of fighting. Rebel groups in the Darfur region took up arms against the national government after years of accusing Khartoum of mistreatment. 

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