Sudan Inches Closer to Handing Over Ex-Dictator for Genocide Trial


NAIROBI, Kenya — Sudan’s government has agreed to hand over Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court, officials said, marking the highest-level commitment in years to send the deposed dictator to face charges of genocide and war crimes and seek a measure of justice for victims of his 30-year rule.

Mr. al-Bashir, 77, was ousted two years ago and has been imprisoned since then. He has been wanted by the international court in The Hague since 2009 over atrocities committed by his government in the western region of Darfur, where about 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million displaced in a war from 2003 to 2008, according to the United Nations.

The court has pressed Sudanese officials in recent months to hand over Mr. al-Bashir and other leaders accused of crimes in Darfur. If he is transferred, it would mark a major step in the nascent Sudanese government’s efforts to heed victims’ demands for justice, hold rights abusers to account and end decades of impunity for perpetrators of atrocities.

On Wednesday, Sudan’s foreign minister, Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, said the cabinet had agreed to transfer Mr. al-Bashir after meeting with the international court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, according to the state-owned Sudan News Agency.

Officials did not give a timeline for when Mr. al-Bashir might be transferred and Mr. Khan is expected to address the matter at a news conference on Thursday. The decision from the civilian cabinet is not final and is likely to require approval from the Sovereignty Council of Sudan — a 14-member body formed in 2019 to guide the country through a transition to democracy, which includes members of the military previously allied with Mr. al-Bashir.

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On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department welcomed the decision to transfer Mr. al-Bashir. Its spokesman, Ned Price, urged both the cabinet and the council to work together “to finalize and execute this decision.”

Mr. Khan arrived in Sudan this week and met officials, including the attorney general, members of the Sovereignty Council and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in a bid to improve cooperation and seek justice for victims of the Darfur war.

The foreign minister’s announcement on Wednesday came days after the cabinet voted to ratify the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the I.C.C., inching the northeast African state closer to fully joining the court and increasing the likelihood that Mr. al-Bashir would face trial.

Mr. al-Bashir, an army commander at the time, came to power in Sudan in 1989 after ousting the democratically elected government. For the next three decades, he ruled with an iron fist, overseeing a government that restricted media freedoms, curtailed human rights, crippled economic growth and waged war on its own people.

Mr. al-Bashir fought a war with the country’s south with the aim of keeping it under control. But as part of a peace agreement signed in Kenya in 2005, he agreed to a referendum that would decide the future of the south as an independent nation.

That became a reality in January 2011 when a majority voted to secede — breaking up Africa’s largest country to form the world’s youngest state.

But even as he let South Sudan go, Mr. al-Bashir kept up a vicious campaign in the western region of Darfur, where rebels took up arms after accusing his government of political and economic marginalization.

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The enormous toll of death, displacement and human suffering pushed the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for him in 2009.

The court accused him of committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, including murder, torture and rape — allegations that he has rejected over the years.

Despite the international warrant, Mr. al-Bashir continued to travel while he was still in power to countries including Egypt and South Africa. The international court does not try suspects until they are arrested and sent to The Hague, meaning the case against Mr. al-Bashir remains in the pretrial stage.

In December 2018, the brewing anti-Bashir sentiment in Sudan gathered momentum when protests erupted over spiking bread and fuel prices. As the protests intensified, Mr. al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and postponed constitutional amendments that would have secured him another term come 2020.

But in early April, the military ousted and arrested him, bringing an end to his three decades of autocratic rule.

Since then, Sudan has been led by a transitional government that has introduced wider personal and political freedoms, helped remove the country from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism, signed a peace deal with rebel groups in Darfur and helped attain debt relief from creditors.

The Sudanese courts convicted Mr. al-Bashir of money laundering and corruption charges in late 2019 and sentenced him to two years in detention. He still faces charges related to the 1989 coup, which could incur the death penalty or life imprisonment if he is convicted.

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Sudanese authorities have suggested previously that the former strongman might be sent to The Hague.

Last year, a member of the ruling council said Mr. al-Bashir might be extradited — a move that many Sudanese observers doubted would happen given the enduring discord between the military and civilian arms of the government and how close some of the military leaders in the council were to Mr. al-Bashir.

But in recent days, both civilian and military leaders have signaled their readiness to support and cooperate with the court. These assurances, according to state media, have even come from Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, also known as Hemeti, the first vice-president of the transitional council. He was a close ally of Mr. al-Bashir and led a paramilitary force accused of committing widespread atrocities in Darfur.


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