Sudan’s military ousted President Omar al-Bashir and put him under arrest, abruptly ending his 30-year authoritarian rule and triggering a possibility of bringing him to trial before the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal.
Sudan’s Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf addressed the nation, announcing al-Bashir was arrested and declaring a state of emergency for three months. On state-run television, Ibn Auf said the constitution was suspended and a state of emergency was declared for the next three months.
Several U.N. human rights experts condemned reports that Sudanese authorities used excessive force against peaceful protesters, resulting in the deaths of 20 people and injuries to 100 others, and that security forces carried out widespread, arbitrary arrests and attacked journalists.
At a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the Sudanese Armed Forces in Khartoum, the experts said, National Intelligence and Security Services used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters. The army had to move in to protect civilians.
“I urge the authorities to lift the national state of emergency and respond to the legitimate grievances of the Sudanese people through (an) inclusive peaceful political process,” said Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, one of dozens of U.N. special rapporteurs for the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, in a joint statement.
The move came in the wake of massive nationwide protests that began four months ago when the government tried to raise the prices of bread and basic commodities. Human rights campaigners emphasized al-Bashir was wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges in connection with atrocities in Darfur.
The ICC was created as a court of “last resort” that would be authorized to step in when nations failed to prosecute individuals for the most serious crimes under international law — crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and aggression.
In 2008, the ICC’s then-chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, formally requested an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.
That marked the first time since the court was established in 2002 that an ICC prosecutor brought genocide charges against a sitting head of state or anyone for that matter. Moreno-Ocampo said at the time that al-Bashir had “masterminded” the killing of 35,000 people in a plan to annihilate all three major ethnic civilian groups in Darfur — the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa peoples — using Arab militias and government soldiers.
“If the Sudan military’s important announcement is that President Bashir will finally step down, it should demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law and an end to mass atrocities by delivering him to the International Criminal Court to face charges,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
An overdue day in court
For years, the United Nations has urged nations to arrest Sudan’s president so he can be brought to trial. In 2011, then-U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters she was “disappointed” that China welcomed Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir during a visit instead of arresting him.
Pillay said “the whole world favors trial” for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and three counts of genocide before the ICC, which is based at The Hague, Netherlands. The now-ousted Sudanese leader has repeatedly and defiantly rejected the charges and authority of the war crimes tribunal.
But China, Russia and the United States – three of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members – have not joined the ICC. The other two permanent members are Britain and France.
The court has no police force or ability to enforce its orders without cooperation from governments. It also is independent from the United Nations. But the court’s founding treaty – the Rome Statute – gave the Security Council, the most powerful arm of the world body, the ability to refer cases.
Sudan also is not among the 123 countries that ratified the treaty. However, the Security Council granted the ICC jurisdiction over Sudanese war crimes in 2005, requiring Sudan and all other parties to cooperate.
As a result of the 2005 referral, ICC’s then-chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo filed charges against al-Bashir accusing the Sudanese leader of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from a crackdown that claimed 300,000 lives and drove 2.5 million people from their homes.
Even those who survived the crackdown were preyed upon by government-backed janjaweed militia and regular troops, Moreno-Ocampo said. Some nations that were ICC members refused to carry out the court’s international warrant for al-Bashir, saying it could undermine peace efforts in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
Al-Bashir continued to visit ICC non-member nations, such as Ethiopia, where he was not likely to face arrest. Until now, most of the prosecutions in The Hague, Netherlands-based court — and there have been only eight convictions in its 16-year history — were directed against Africans suspected of war crimes.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration harshly condemned the court, one of the most-hated international organizations for American conservatives.
Earlier this month, his administration blocked the ICC from investigating Americans by revoking a U.S. travel visa for the ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer and international maritime law expert. She was barred from visiting the United States for any reason other than “official U.N. purposes.”
The Philippines withdrew from the court in March, only the second nation to ever do so after Burundi became the first in 2017. Malaysia joined the ICC in March, leaving the court with 123 member nations.