ICC fugitive feels the heat
Publish date: 07 January 2019
Issue Number: 805
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Will another infamous African autocrat fall on his sword? Legalbrief reports that nearly three decades after Omar al-Bashir swept into power in a military coup, a wave of demonstrations over price hikes and shortages shows no signs of letting up. Tens of thousands of people yesterday (Sunday) took to the streets around the country to demand his resignation. The protesters, who chanted slogans borrowed from the ‘Arab Spring’ movements in neighbouring Egypt and nearby Libya, have been numerous enough to fill stadiums and the square in front of Bashir’s palace. The Washington Post reports that the government has shut off access to social media sites across the country in an effort to contain the protests, but widespread use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, has allowed the Internet to remain a space not just for sharing information but also for sharing graphic pictures and videos of wounded or dead protesters. Riot police yesterday fired tear gas at protesters planning to march on the presidential palace, as backers of Bashir announced their own rally for this week. A report on the News24 site notes that deadly anti-government protests have rocked Sudanese cities including Khartoum since 19 December when unrest first broke out over a government decision to raise the price of bread. Authorities say at least 19 people have been killed in clashes so far, but Amnesty International has put the figure at 37. Sudan's Labour Minister Bahar Idris announced that a pro-government rally would be held on Wednesday at Khartoum's Green Yard, a large open ground in the capital. The rally would express ‘the choice of the Sudanese people and address the present crisis’, Idris said. Analyst Muhammad Osman said a total collapse of Bashir’s regime ‘is neither an imminent nor a guaranteed outcome of these protests’. ‘It all boils down to whether the protests can keep going strong. If they do, the most likely scenario to happen eventually is a coup as more and more members of his security cabal continue to realise that he has become a liability.’ A report on the EWN site notes that Bashir has ordered authorities to establish a committee to investigate the violence. ‘President Omar al-Bashir has ordered the setting up of a fact-finding committee headed by the justice minister to look into the incidents of the past few days,’ a presidential decree noted.
Three-quarters of Sudan's oil wealth has been lost after the country's southern half voted to secede in 2011, leading to the formation of South Sudan. Its economy has also been strained by over 20 years of US sanctions, which were lifted in October 2017. BBC News reports that the US had introduced economic sanctions after accusing Sudan of sponsoring terrorist groups. Over the past year, the cost of some goods has more than doubled, while the Sudanese pound has plunged in value. A growing number of his former allies are clamouring for his departure and none of his African allies are stepping up to help.
An analysis on the News24 site notes that if Bashir digs his heels in, it could mean greater violence and economic paralysis for Sudan and a new stage in a dark history of strife, military dictatorships and political polarisation. Once Africa's largest nation, Sudan under Bashir was prominent on the world stage in the 1990s and 2000s for all the wrong reasons. It was the scene of a long civil war between the mostly Christian and animist south and the Muslim and Arabised north. It hosted Osama bin Laden in the early years of his jihadi movement that led to the creation of al-Qaeda, landing Sudan a spot on the US list of countries backing terrorism. In the 2000s, it was most known for the brutal repression of an uprising in its western Darfur region, when the pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed became notorious for atrocities and Bashir himself was indicted by the ICC. The report notes that after the south gained independence in 2011 in a referendum that Bashir agreed to in a peace treaty, Sudan lost a third of its territory and fell out of the international spotlight. In the years since, it languished in increasing economic misery.
Legalbrief reports that Bashir became the first sitting President to be indicted by the ICC for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. the court issued an arrest warrant on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for genocide. However, the following year, the ICC issued a second warrant containing three separate counts of genocide. The new warrant, like the first, was delivered to the Sudanese government, which did not recognise it nor the ICC. The indictments do not allege that Bashir personally took part in such activities; instead, they say that he is ‘suspected of being criminally responsible, as an indirect co-perpetrator’. The court's decision is opposed by the AU, League of Arab States, Non-Aligned Movement, and the governments of Russia and China.