Profile: Omar al-Bashir

Sudanese leader presided over decades of civil wars and rebellions, including Darfur.

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Al-Bashir has supported the Janjawid tribes since the Darfur conflict began in 2003 [EPA] 

Omar al-Bashir has been the Sudanese leader through two decades of civil war, rebellions, drought and famine.

The 65-year-old leader, and several senior ministers in his cabinet, has been criticised for what the UN has called ethnic cleansing in the western province of Darfur, home to a number of non-Arab tribes who rebelled against the government in 2003.

The tribes accused Khartoum of siding with Arab tribes who are fighting for control of scarce resources and blocking their aspirations for autonomy.

The UN estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 people have died in the conflict with a further 1.2 million displaced within Sudan and in neighbouring Chad and Egypt.

In depth

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In June 2008, the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague, accused al-Bashir of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur.

The Sudanese government has persistently denied the accusations.

On March 4, the ICC issued an international arrest warrant for al-Bashir, which could make him the first sitting head of state to be indicted.

Al-Bashir has rejected the ICC’s legitimacy and refused to abide by the warrant for his arrest; he says he intends to run as a candidate in elections later in 2009.

The polls were agreed in a 2005 peace deal, which ended a 21-year-long civil war between the Khartoum in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south, and would be the country’s first democratic elections in more than two decades.

Al-Bashir’s main political rival is Salva Kiir Mayardit, the Sudanese vice-president and leader of the SPLA.

Rise to power

Al-Bashir was born in 1944 in northern Sudan – which until independence in 1955 was known as the Kingdom of Egypt and Sudan. He enrolled in a military academy in Egypt in 1960 and graduated from another military academy in Khartoum in 1966.

He rose through the ranks quickly and fought with the Egyptian army against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In 1975, he was appointed as the military attaché in the United Arab Emirates. Upon returning to Sudan he was appointed garrison commander and in 1981 he became the head of an armoured parachute brigade.

In 1993, al-Bashir appointed himself president of Sudan [AFP] 

As a colonel in the Sudanese military, Bashir was well-positioned to lead a bloodless military coup against Sadiq al-Mahdi, the then prime minister, on June 30, 1989.

Al-Bashir was appointed chairman of the Revolutionary Command Centre for National Salvation (RCC), which was established as a “transitional” government.

After allying with Hassan al-Turabi, the speaker of the Sudanese parliament and head of the National Islamic Front, al-Bashir began instituting Sharia (Islamic Law) and abolished political parties in 1990.

Southern Sudan, home to Christian and animist (belief in the existence of individual spirits that inhabit natural objects and phenomena) tribes, rejected Sharia law and the decades-long north-south civil war intensified.

Political conflict

In 1993, al-Bashir abolished the RCC and appointed himself president of Sudan.

Sudan held elections in March 1996 for a president and a new National Assembly. Al-Bashir was elected president – with no opposing candidates or parties – with 75 per cent of votes.

In 1999, he legalised the registration of multiple political parties.

Later that year, al-Bashir ousted al-Turabi, who had grown increasingly close to Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, from his post as parliament speaker and had him imprisoned.

In 2000, al-Bashir was re-elected after winning 90 per cent of a popular vote in an election described as a sham by the opposition.

A wanted man

In 2003, several ethnic groups in Darfur launched a rebellion against the Sudanese government and state-backed Arab militias known as the Janjawid.

The rebels – the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – accused the government of oppressing black Africans and favouring Arabs in an impoverished region historically prone to tensions between the two communities over water and grazing rights.

The Janjawid have been accused of committing atrocities in Darfur [EPA]

The UN and human rights groups say Khartoum is using the Janjawid, as a proxy force to crush the revolt.

In 2004, the US, which is not a signatory to the ICC, referred to the Darfur conflict as genocide.

Sudan’s foreign ministry acknowledged some human rights violations had occurred in the troubled western Darfur region but denied that these were part of systematic ethnic cleansing or genocide.

The United Nations Security Council referred the Darfur case to the ICC in 2005, giving them the mandate to investigate the claims.

In July 2008, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, asked for an arrest warrant to be issued for al-Bashir, accusing him of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Since then, however, the ICC has dropped the term ‘genocide’ from its list of charges against the Sudanese president.

Although Sudan is legally obligated to turn al-Bashir over into custody, Khartoum has so far ruled out co-operation with the ICC.

Al-Bashir has said the ICC has little power to enforce his arrest warrant, but suspects can be arrested in any country that is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the court in 1998.

Source: Al Jazeera