Sudan will hand longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) along with two other officials wanted over the Darfur conflict, officials say.
Al-Bashir, 77, has been wanted by The Hague-based ICC for more than 10 years over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region.
The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur conflict, which erupted in the vast western region in 2003.
The “cabinet decided to hand over wanted officials to the ICC,” Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi was quoted as saying by state news agency SUNA, without giving a timeframe.
The cabinet’s decision to hand him over came during a visit by ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan, but it still needs the approval of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, comprised of military and civilian figures.
On Wednesday, Khan met the sovereign council’s leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, its deputy chair. Daglo said Sudan “is prepared to cooperate with the ICC”, SUNA reported.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who also met Khan, on Wednesday said “Sudan’s commitment to seek justice is not only to abide by its international commitments, but it comes out of a response to the people’s demands”.
‘Special Court of Darfur’
It remains unclear if al-Bashir would be extradited to face trial in The Hague, or could remain in Sudan.
Volker Perthes, the UN Special Representative to Sudan, on Wednesday said the ICC “can help” with the “establishment of (a) Special Court for Darfur”, without giving further details.
The transitional authorities have previously said they would hand al-Bashir over, but one stumbling block was that Sudan was not party to the court’s founding Rome Statute.
But last week, Sudan’s cabinet voted to ratify the Rome Statute, a crucial move seen as one step towards al-Bashir potentially facing trial.
ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah did not comment on the announcement, saying Khan was “in Khartoum to discuss cooperation matters” but that the prosecutor would hold a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
The US State Department spokesman Ned Price praised Sudan’s decision, saying handing over al-Bashir “would be a major step for Sudan in the fight against decades of impunity”.
In December, Washington removed Sudan from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism”, and later also pledged to clear the country’s arrears with the World Bank.
Al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years before being deposed amid popular protests in 2019, is behind bars in Khartoum’s high-security Kober prison.
He is jailed alongside two other former top officials facing ICC war crimes charges – ex-Defence Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein and Ahmed Haroun, a former governor of South Kordofan.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, later adding genocide to the charges.
Al-Bashir was removed by the military and detained in April 2019 after four months of mass nationwide protests against his rule.
The former strongman was convicted in December 2019 for corruption, and has been on trial in Khartoum since July 2020 for the 1989 coup which brought him to power. He faces the death penalty if found guilty.
Sudan has been led since August 2019 by a transitional civilian-military administration that has pledged to bring justice to victims of crimes committed under Bashir.
The Darfur war broke out in 2003 when non-Arab rebels took up arms complaining of systematic discrimination by al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the notorious Popular Defence Forces militia or Janjaweed, recruited from among the region’s nomadic peoples.
Human rights groups have long accused al-Bashir and his former aides of using a scorched earth policy, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
Khartoum signed a peace deal last October with key Darfuri rebel groups, with some of their leaders taking top jobs in government, although violence continues to dog the region.
But after years of conflict, the arid and impoverished region remains awash with automatic weapons and clashes still erupt, often over land and access to water.
Last year, alleged senior Popular Defence Forces militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, also known by the nom de guerre Ali Kushayb, surrendered to the court, where he faces charges of murder, rape and torture.