Sudan says it will hand over former dictator Omar al-Bashir to International Criminal Court

A top Sudanese official said Tuesday the country's transitional authorities and rebel groups have agreed to hand over former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial for war crimes, including mass killings in Darfur.

He is wanted for genocide in the Darfur conflict in which hundreds of thousands were killed

Sudan's former president, Omar al-Bashir, could soon face trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. (Burhan Ozbilici/The Associated Press)

A top Sudanese official said Tuesday the country's transitional authorities and rebel groups have agreed to hand over former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial for war crimes, including mass killings in Darfur.

Al-Bashir, who was overthrown by the military last year amid a public uprising, is wanted by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide related to the Darfur conflict. Since his ouster in April, he has been in jail in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, on charges of corruption and killing protesters.

Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of the country's sovereign council and a government negotiator, said the council agreed with rebel groups in Darfur to hand over those wanted by the ICC to face justice in The Hague.

He didn't mention al-Bashir by name, but said, "We agreed that everyone who had arrest warrants issued against them will appear before the ICC. I'm saying it very clearly."

Al-Taishi did not say when they would transfer al-Bashir and others wanted by the ICC, and the transitional administration would need to ratify the ICC's Rome Statute to allow for the transfer of the former president to The Hague.

"We can only achieve justice if we heal the wounds with justice itself," he said. "We cannot escape from confronting that."

He spoke in a news conference in South Sudan's capital, Juba, where the government and rebels are holding talks to end the country's decades-long civil war.

4 others indicted

In the Darfur conflict, rebels among the territory's ethnic Central African community launched an insurgency in 2003, complaining of discrimination and oppression by the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. The government responded with a scorched-earth assault of aerial bombings and unleashed the Janjaweed militia. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes.

Along with al-Bashir, the ICC has indicted two other senior figures in his regime — Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, who was interior and defence minister during much of the conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time who last month was named by al-Bashir to run the ruling National Congress Party. Both have been under arrest in Khartoum since al-Bashir's fall.

Also indicted were Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb and a senior Darfur rebel leader, Abdullah Banda, whose whereabouts are not known.

Watch l Bashir ousted after decades in power (April 2019):

Military coup ousts Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

3 years ago
Sudan's state-run broadcaster says Defence Minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Auf is being sworn in as head of a new military council that will run the country for two years. 5:05

ICC spokesperson Fadi Al Abdallah said the court had no comment until it received confirmation from Sudanese authorities. However, he said the country would not have to ratify the court's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, before sending al-Bashir to The Hague.

"There is an obligation for Sudan to co-operate" with the court's arrest warrants, he said. "The ratification of the Rome Statute itself is not a requirement for the surrender of suspects."

Extradition could spur backlash

The decision to extradite al-Bashir could result in a backlash from within Sudan's military, from which he emerged, and also from Islamists in the country.

Al-Bashir's lawyer, Mohammed al-Hassan, warned that handing him over would have "dire political and security repercussions" for Sudan.

"This matter will not happen easily," he told the AP by phone.

Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is shown last year in Galawee, northern Sudan. He was a part of the Janjaweed militia that crushed the Darfur insurgency. (The Associated Press)

Handing over al-Bashir is a sensitive issue in Sudan as the country tries to steer toward democratic and economic reforms.

The deputy head of the Sovereign Council, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo,​​​​​​, also known as Hemedti, commands a paramilitary unit that was involved in crushing the Darfur insurgency. The transitional government is under pressure to end its wars with rebel groups as it seeks to rehabilitate the battered economy, attract much-needed foreign aid and deliver the democracy it promises.

"The fledgling post-Bashir Sudan government is demonstrating a serious commitment to human rights principles in its first months in office." said John Prendergast, expert and co-founder of the Sentry watchdog group. "Finally seeing a small measure of justice done for the mass atrocity crimes in Darfur will hopefully breathe new life into global efforts in support of human rights and genocide prevention."

Al-Bashir would be the highest profile figure yet to appear before the ICC, which was founded in 2002 but has been unable to gain acceptance among major powers, including the United States, Russia and China.

In this Nov. 23, 2017 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir shake hands during a meeting in Sochi. Until his ouster last year, Bashir travelled freely to several countries despite being under indictment. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

If he is handed over, it would be only the second time a country has surrendered a former leader to the ICC. Ivory Coast transferred former President Laurent Gbagbo in 2011 to The Hague, where he was acquitted last year of crimes against humanity charges linked to alleged involvement in post-election violence.

For a decade after his indictment, al-Bashir  travelled abroad frequently to visit friendly leaders without fear of arrest. He even attended the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he kicked a soccer ball playfully during an airport welcome ceremony and watched matches from luxury seating.