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Why prosecution of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is an international matter

Sudan's former president is one step closer to prosecution for the egregious war crimes he allegedly committed. During Omar al-Bashir’s 30 years in power, Sudan descended into civil war. Now, as the country’s transitional government conducts peace talks with rebel leaders, it has agreed to send Bashir to trial. Amna Nawaz gets analysis from Salih Booker of the Center for International Policy.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The former president of Sudan is one step closer to facing justice for the most egregious of the crimes he allegedly committed.

    During the most violent of Omar al-Bashir's 30 years in power, Sudan descended into civil war. Now, as the government conducts peace talks with rebel leaders, they have agreed to send Bashir to trial.

    For more than a decade, Omar al-Bashir has been wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, rape, and genocide in the Darfur region.

    Today, Sudan's transitional government and rebel groups in Darfur announced the deposed leader will be handed over to the court at The Hague in the Netherlands.

  • Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi (through translator):

    We agreed on the appearance of those whose arrests have been ordered in front of the International Criminal Court.

    We cannot achieve justice unless we heal the wounds with justice itself. We cannot, under any condition, flee from facing these crimes against humanity and crimes of war.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Bashir has been jailed in Khartoum on corruption charges since mass protests and a military coup forced him from power last April.

    His 30-year regime was marked by war in Darfur that began in 2003, when rebels launched an insurgency. Bashir responded with a brutal crackdown that killed more than 300,000 people and forced some 2.5 million others from their homes.

    The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009, its first for a sitting president. Another warrant came the following year. But, for years, the Sudanese strongman continued to travel across Africa, dismissing the allegations as Western conspiracy.

    It remains unclear when Bashir will be handed over, but it would be only the second time a country has surrendered its head of state to face the ICC. The other, former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, was acquitted last year of crimes against humanity.

    And joining me now is Salih Booker. He is the president and CEO of the Center for International Policy, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group. He has extensive experience advising U.S. government officials on Africa policy.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Salih Booker:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, just when we look at the timeline, Bashir was indicted by the ICC over a decade ago.

  • Salih Booker:

    That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ousted from power a year ago almost. Why is this happening now?

  • Salih Booker:

    Well, initially, the transitional government thought they could deal with this domestically within Sudan.

    But it's their negotiations with the rebels in Darfur and other southern regions that has led to this decision that they have to release him to the ICC. So it's the demands of the rebels that they're trying to end the civil wars that have made this happen.

    Many people forget, Sudan, while it's overthrown Bashir, it has a transitional government, a hybrid military-civilian rule, it's still facing multiple civil wars. And it's serious about ending those civil wars.

    And the demands of the rebels are for justice, first and foremost, and that means making sure al-Bashir faces justice.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The decision to hand him over, some are reporting, is sort of a reversal of the council's previous position, though. This was not something they were readily willing to offer.

    Is there a chance that it doesn't happen, that they decide not to send him through to the ICC?

  • Salih Booker:

    There is that chance.

    And, in fact, what they have said is that they intend to create some kind of special court in Sudan to try those alleged to have committed war crimes in Darfur and elsewhere during these civil wars.

    But the pressure will continue to be there to release him to the International Criminal Court, and largely because Sudan, the justice system in Sudan is not really able to handle this kind of trial impartially and fairly, largely because the justice system was just decimated during the 30-year dictatorship of al-Bashir.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And could there be other people, in addition to Bashir, who faced charges in Sudan?

  • Salih Booker:

    Well, there are three other Sudanese government officials and janjaweed militia leaders who already have arrest warrants that have been issued by the ICC? So they two are wanted in The Hague.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's worth remembering when those arrest warrants were issued by the ICC, Bashir became sort of a pariah, right?

    There are very few heads of state in other nations who would actually meet with him. What would this mean, if he does go through to the ICC to face justice there, for the place of Sudan in the rest of the world?

  • Salih Booker:

    I think it's very important for the rest of the world and for the rule of law and the international rule of law.

    When he had the arrest warrants issued in 2009-2010, yes, he was to be a pariah, but, in fact, many countries did receive him, not only in Africa, but the Middle East and Russia and China.

    And so I think finally facing justice in The Hague will show that countries have an obligation, particularly those that are signatories to the International Criminal Court, but also the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. system, to make sure those who face arrest warrants have their day in court in The Hague.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, what about for the country, how they perceive this trial? If he goes through to the ICC, if for some reason he is not convicted — there has been some criticism on how the court sees through some of those trials — does it undermine the same forces that ousted him from power in the first place?

  • Salih Booker:

    There's that risk.

    But I think the evidence is overwhelming. And there's loads of evidence, in terms of the crimes that he's charged with, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity.

    The investigations by others, NGOs, journalists, have all led and helped the ICC develop the case against him.

    They began investigating this case in 2005, and didn't issue the arrest warrants until four years later. So, there's sufficient evidence, I think, to convict him, as well as his colleagues, in the crimes that he committed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So what does all this mean for the people of Sudan?

    We mentioned the hundreds of thousands who were killed at that time of war.

  • Salih Booker:

    Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The millions who were displaced.

    You mentioned the ongoing displacement and conflict.

  • Salih Booker:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    How does this all resolve for the future and stability of people there?

  • Salih Booker:

    Well, Sudan is a big and important country. It used to be Africa's largest country, until South Sudan split away in 2011.

    But it's an African country at the crossroads of the Middle East and Africa. It's a country that has seen a civilian uprising and nonviolent protests, leading to democratic change, overthrowing a military dictatorship.

    Algeria is attempting to do the same also after 30 years. So, these are very important developments.

    But they need justice. They need to be able to demonstrate that those who are responsible for the massive and gross human rights abuses, for the destruction of the economy, for all the wars in the country are held accountable. They need to end the wars. They need to restore the economy, and they need to show that they can deliver a democratic system.

    They have two-and-a-half years left in this interim period to prepare for the elections that will usher in a truly democratic government for the first time in over three decades.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a critical time for Sudan.

  • Salih Booker:

    It is, indeed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And the world will be watching.

    Salih Booker of the Center for International Policy, always good to have you here.

  • Salih Booker:

    Thank you so much.

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