Omar Al-Bashir may have been deposed as president of Sudan after three decades of deeply repressive rule, but he has not faced justice for the litany of grave human rights violations and crimes under international law he allegedly committed while in power.
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 torturing of hundreds of thousands of people in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
Darfur has been the setting of a bloody conflict that has persisted since 2003 and continues to this day, according to Amnesty International. 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 people. 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 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.
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 organising 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 desplace of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
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.
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 said it has documented human rights violations carried out by Sudanese forces in Darfur.
Amnesty International said in a report in April 2019 that all parties to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC are obliged under the international law to arrest al-Bashir if he sets foot in their country. The organisation said that al-Bashir, during his presidency, 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.
“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,” Amnesty said.
The Sudanese people have been protesting since December 2018 when they took to the streets to express their anger over rising costs of living and the decline of political freedom. Their pressure worked and on 11 April, Sudan’s military overthrew the National Congress Party (NCP) government, arresting al-Bashir and other senior party leaders.
But while al-Bashir’s 30-year rule has come to an end, the human rights situation in Sudan, which has deteriorated dramatically since the beginning of the protests, continues to worsen. Many of the protestors calling for peace, justice, rule of law, and economic reforms have paid the price of change with their lives and liberty.
The Sudanese security forces brutally suppressed the protests by unlawfully killing protestors, mercilessly beating them in the streets, and unlawfully detaining and subjecting them to torture and other ill-treatment. Security forces stormed hospitals firing live ammunition and tear gas at patients and medical staff attempting to arrest injured protestors, in an outrageous violation of international law.