Breaking the climate of impunity is absolutely essential to helping to build a democratic Sudan that enhances everybody’s human rights. That is the view of Dr Simon Adams of the New York-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, who was reacting to a decision by the Sudanese cabinet that unanimously endorsed a bill to join the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The decision will need the approval of the country’s transitional Sovereign Council but could have broad implications both for those seeking justice and those accused of atrocity crimes perpetrated in the Darfur region in the early 2000s.
A tweet from Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok confirmed the cabinet’s unanimous decision while adding that justice and accountability are a solid foundation for the new, rule of law-based Sudan they are striving to build.
Today, in our Cabinet meeting, we have unanimously passed a bill to join the Rome Statute of the @IntlCrimCourt. We'll hold a joint Councils meeting to pass it into law. Justice & accountability are a solid foundation of the new, rule of law-based #Sudan we’re striving to build. pic.twitter.com/58jpqQWlf3
— Abdalla Hamdok (@SudanPMHamdok) August 3, 2021
“It’s a great and significant day for the pursuit of international justice especially with regard to Sudan – former President, former dictator Omar Al Bashir is one of the longest-running fugitives from international justice. You know he made a narrow escape from South Africa in 2015 when I think he had to flee from Sandton Mall to the airport, get out of the country quite quickly but I think this latest decision is probably about the Sudanese transitional authorities, probably to save face a little bit and find a way of collaborating with the court and I suspect potentially try to have a domestic trial with some kind of ICC involvement,” says Adams.
While the move has been largely welcomed as a step towards justice for the victims of Darfur’s genocide, nothing currently stops Sudan from assisting in the transfer of various indictees sought by the ICC including former President Omar El Bashir by virtue of a Security Council resolution in 2005 that referred Sudan to the Hague-based ICC and instructed the country’s authorities to cooperate with the institution.
“Bashir is literally under indictment for the worst crimes a human being can commit against one another – genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, he’s being wanted by the International Criminal Court for a very long time and the Sudanese authorities could definitely hand him over to the Hague tomorrow if they wanted to but I suspect that both sides here want to find some kind of compromise which allows him to be put into a courtroom in Sudan and held accountable for these crimes,” adds Adams.
Bashir is currently being held at a high-security prison in Khartoum on separate charges relating to corruption and the coup that brought him to power in 1989. He, along with five others including former Sudan Defence Minister Abdel Raheem Hussein and former Interior Minister Ahmad Harun, stand accused of atrocity crimes in their response to a rebellion against the Khartoum government in 2003 – launching a scorched earth assault that led to up to 300 000 dead and the displacement of millions more, as Dr Adams explains.
“An entire generation has grown up in Sudan who have probably not a direct awareness of what happened in Darfur or in the early 2000s and the scale of the atrocities, the scale of the human suffering there but I also think there’s a rising generation in Sudan who are actually very aware of their own human rights, of their own kind of belief and the need for a democratic transition in Sudan and who are pushing for people like former President, former dictator Bashir to actually be held accountable under international law – think that’s a very positive thing.”
Last year a senior pro-Government Janjaweed commander Ali Kushayb surrendered to the ICC where he faces charges of persecution, murder and rape in Darfur between 2003 and 2004 becoming the first suspect taken into custody in The Hague.