Marking the 13th Anniversary of the International Criminal Court’s Indictment of Omar al-Bashir
Today March 4th, 2022 marks the 13th year since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the first arrest warrant against Omar al-Bashir for the crimes committed in Darfur. Bashir stands accused of the most heinous international crimes—genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity—all of which he orchestrated against the indigenous African tribes of Darfur. Although he has been removed from power after thirty years of bloody rule, he has yet to be tried for these horrific crimes while victims continue to suffer.
During his presidency, Bashir ordered the Sudanese Armed Forces and allied Janjaweed militias to carry out a scorched-earth genocidal campaign in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. Bashir directly ordered the mass killing of thousands of innocent civilians and the pillaging and burnings of entire villages while utilizing rape and starvation as weapons of war. This resulted in a global catastrophe that shocked the world’s consciousness and galvanized global outrage from activists, advocates, and policymakers alike.
Since then, conservative estimates find that more than 400,000 people have been killed, over 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes, and over 5,000 villages have been destroyed. However, the violence continues unabated to this day. For these crimes, Bashir was charged with five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape. He is also accused of two counts of war crimes, including intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and against innocent individual civilians and pillaging. Further, Bashir is charged with three counts of genocide by means of killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, and deliberately inflicting on each target group conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction. Such conditions of life include contaminating the water supply of entire communities and the blockage of humanitarian aid.
Despite Bashir being ousted in 2019 and demands for justice from the affected communities being heard across Sudan, thus far, he has only been tried for corruption and money laundering in Sudan, not for perpetrating the most heinous international crimes—genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur. While the interim government vowed to pursue justice, they utterly failed to hold the perpetrators of such serious crimes accountable. The impunity for Bashir does not only inflict devastating effects within Sudan but sends a dangerous message to individuals perpetrating mass atrocities around the world.
The crimes committed against the people of Darfur are crimes of a global magnitude. Although some world leaders have made strong statements about the need to hold those perpetrators accountable, they have all failed to take concerted action to bring the individuals responsible for these crimes to face justice. Moreover, the recent developments in Sudan are a clear indicator of the consequences that can occur when the international community fails to hold despotic leaders accountable. Their inaction has emboldened the military regime to continue the tactics of the Bashir regime of violating international human rights and humanitarian laws, usurping power through a coup, and killing innocent civilians. In holding Bashir accountable for his crimes, the international community would send a strong signal to the military junta of consequences that will come their way, as well. If Bashir escapes justice, the rulers of the military junta will believe they could too.
2021 was a year of significant milestones in the ICC’s cases against the perpetrators of the genocide in Darfur. All of the charges against former Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb were confirmed, allowing his trial to officially begin next month. The chief prosecutor of the ICC also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the interim government that seemed to represent a step forward in the direction of justice. However, while these strides were being made at the international level to achieve justice for victims, the situation on the ground did not reflect this progress. The security situation in the country remains alarming, as victims continue to face attacks and ongoing displacement with no end in sight. The October 25th coup then demonstrated that the Sudanese military—which assisted in the perpetration of the genocide—still cannot be trusted to usher in tangible change nor sustainable peace.
The situation in Darfur was referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council, in part, because of the Sudanese government’s culpability in committing the crimes and the judicial system’s incapability and unwillingness to prosecute those responsible for these heinous crimes. Despite promises for reform during the previous interim period, the October military coup and continued lack of accountability for the crimes committed in Darfur have reinforced the fact that the Sudanese judiciary is still inadequate, incompetent, and unwilling to hold the military accountable, and cannot bring justice to the millions of genocide victims that are still suffering. Despite the promises made during Sudan’s interim period to transfer Bashir to The Hague, the new reality that has been imposed on Sudan by the military junta makes cooperation with the ICC incredibly unlikely.
Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG) wishes to remind our leaders that because the case of Darfur was referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council (UNSCR 1593), its members, including the United States, are obligated to actively support and fulfill their legal obligations to pursue justice. All State Parties to the ICC and the signatories to the Rome Statute are legally obligated to support the ICC, including through cooperation and implementation of the warrants of arrest against all suspects.
The unanswered cries for justice in Darfur and across Sudan have gone on for far too long due to the failure of both Sudanese institutions as well as the international community to identify sustainable solutions for effective accountability measures and fulfill the pending ICC arrest warrants. Given the grave reality of the situation in Sudan since the military coup, it is imperative that UN Security Council members and State Parties to the Rome Statute stand for justice.
As the ICC’s trial date for Ali Kushayb is quickly approaching, thousands of victims within the affected communities, particularly women, have not been adequately reached out to, oriented, nor engaged in these proceedings. Therefore, it is equally important that the ICC and the States Parties to the Rome Statute simultaneously exercise pressure over Sudan to create an enabling environment that will allow as many victims as possible to engage in the proceedings for a full investigation of these crimes, as well as those committed by the other former Sudanese leaders indicted by the Court.
DWAG also wishes to remind the ICC and the State Parties to the Rome Statute that while it is important to try Ali Kushayb, justice must not be selective or limited to officials in lower-ranking levels. For the victims from the affected community, justice for them is no less than seeing Bashir—the president and commander-in-chief who ordered, sponsored, and mobilized support to the military to commit such crimes—ultimately held accountable.
DWAG strongly urges all State Parties to the Rome Statute to fulfill their legal and moral obligations by pressuring the military junta in Sudan to immediately implement the pending ICC arrest warrants against Bashir as well as Harun and Hussein. DWAG calls on the United States and other leaders to prioritize criminal justice and accountability in Sudan, which starts with the arrest and surrender of Bashir.
Now more than ever, at this critical juncture in Sudanese history, the United Nations Security Council and States Parties to the Rome Statute must make it clear to Bashir, the other Sudanese officials indicted by the ICC, and the military leaders of Sudan that impunity will no longer be tolerated. The international community must take concrete steps to support the people of Darfur as it did 13 years ago and end impunity for the genocide once and for all. On this 13th anniversary, please stand with Darfur Women Action Group and the people of Sudan and join our call for justice and a world without genocide.