In Sudan, ICC prosecutor says al-Bashir must be tried over Darfur

Fatou Bensouda calls for suspects in Darfur conflict case to face ‘justice without delay’ as she discusses options for trial with officials in Sudan.

Omar al-Bashir
Omar al-Bashir has been under arrest in Khartoum since his overthrow last year [File: Morwan Ali/EPA]

Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other suspects wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur must face justice without further delay, the court’s chief prosecutor, currently on a visit to Khartoum, has said.

Options for prosecuting them, including a trial in Sudan and a hybrid tribunal, were being discussed with Sudanese authorities, Fatou Bensouda told reporters on Tuesday.

“We are seeing what is possible,” she said. “They must all face justice without further delay.”

The ICC has outstanding arrest warrants against al-Bashir and three other Sudanese suspects on charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Al-Bashir has previously denied the charges.

The conflict in Darfur, in the west of Sudan, escalated from 2003 when mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms against al-Bashir’s government, triggering a campaign of repression by the army and mostly-Arab armed groups.

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed and 2.5 million displaced, according to the United Nations.

The 76-year-old former president is in custody in Khartoum’s tough Kober prison after being removed by the military in April last year following months-long protests against his rule. He was convicted last December for corruption and is now on trial in Khartoum for the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

If convicted, al-Bashir and 27 other co-accused could face the death penalty.

Al-Bashir’s legal team has repeatedly denounced the charges against the former president as politically motivated.

‘Historic’ visit

Bensouda said she was encouraged by meetings with senior officials from the transitional authorities who assumed power after al-Bashir’s overthrow, adding that she discussed with the officials access for investigators to probe alleged atrocities in Darfur.

“I particularly welcomed the assurances of support and cooperation expressed to me by the authorities during this visit,” Bensouda said. “We look forward to making timely progress on all of these items,” she added, describing her visit to Sudan as “historic”.

The ICC delegation led by Bensouda has been in Sudan since October 17 and is expected to remain in the country until Wednesday.

Sudan’s transitional government has agreed that al-Bashir would stand trial before the ICC. However, in a peace deal finalised earlier this month, the government agreed to set up a special court for crimes in Darfur and said al-Bashir should also face that court.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said he had spoken with the ICC about the option of trying al-Bashir in Sudan, potentially in a “hybrid court”.

Other than al-Bashir, several of his aides also face accusations of committing atrocities in Darfur, including former South Kordofan governor Ahmed Haroun and ex-Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein.

Both are in custody in Sudan.

In June, Ali Kushayb, the head of the Popular Defence Forces accused of carrying out some of the worst atrocities in Darfur, surrendered to the ICC and is now in custody.

A fifth man, rebel leader Abdallah Banda, is wanted by the ICC but remains at large.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies