Al Bashir: ICC prosecutor urges Sudan to hand former leader to court after militia chief surrenders

Darfur conflict took place under three-decade autocratic rule of Al Bashir

-FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 file image the International Criminal Court, or ICC, is seen in The Hague, Netherlands. Sudanese militia leader Ali Kushayb, who is charged with 50 crimes against humanity and war crimes related to the conflict in Darfur, has been arrested more than 13 years after a warrant was issued for him, authorities said Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Kushayb surrended to authorities in a remote corner of northern Central African Republic, near the country's border with Sudan, International Criminal Court spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
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The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court urged Sudan to hand over former president Omar Al Bashir and two others after a militia leader surrendered himself.

Ali Kushayb handed himself in to the war crimes tribunal, in what the ICC called “a pivotal development” for victims awaiting justice.

Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda also called on Abdallah Banda, commander of the Justice and Equality rebel group in Sudan’s western Darfur region, who remains at large, to surrender to the ICC.

The court said Mr Kushayb, who is charged with 50 crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Darfur conflict, surrendered to authorities in a remote corner of northern Central African Republic, near the country’s border with Sudan.

It said he arrived at the court’s detention centre in The Hague, the Netherlands, on Tuesday evening.

Ms Bensouda told the UN Security Council that she hoped Mr Kushayb’s surrender sent a clear message that her office would not stop pursuing alleged perpetrators of the world’s worst crimes, “no matter how long it takes or the obstacles placed in our path".

The vast Darfur region was gripped by bloodshed in 2003 when rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan community launched an insurgency, accusing the government in Khartoum of discrimination and neglect.

The government responded with an assault of aerial bombings and unleashed local militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and rapes.

Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.

The Darfur conflict took place under the three-decade autocratic rule of Al Bashir, who has been charged with genocide by the ICC for allegedly orchestrating the campaign of attacks.

His rule ended in April 2019 when the military removed him after mass street protests by a pro-democracy movement that began in late 2018.

A power-sharing agreement signed in August 2019 between the military and protesters created a joint civilian-military transitional ruling “sovereign council", but the civilians are struggling to assert authority.

Ms Bensouda said she called Sudan’s Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, about the surrender of Mr Kushayb, a senior Janjaweed commander, and was encouraged by their “open and helpful conversation".

“I remain hopeful that a new chapter of constructive ICC-Sudan engagement rooted in mutual respect and a genuine commitment to bringing justice for the victims of heinous crimes committed in Darfur may be on the horizon,” she said.

She stressed that a dialogue between her office and the government was “imperative".

Al Bashir is serving a two-year sentence for a conviction relating to financial corruption and Sudan’s public prosecutor has also reportedly announced more charges relating to the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

Ms Bensouda said she was also aware of recent reports that the government's anti-corruption body recently confiscated assets valued at $4 billion (Dh14.69bn) from Al Bashir, his family and associates.

She said two other suspects sought by the ICC, Abdel Raheem Hussein and Ahmad Harun, were in government custody awaiting charges by the public prosecutor.

Ms Bensouda expressed concern at reports that both suspects were ill with Covid-19.

“I trust that adequate measures are being taken by the authorities to attend to their health in detention,” she said.

She said the 2005 Security Council resolution that referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC and later orders from ICC judges state that: “Sudan remains under an international legal duty to surrender all the suspects subject to an ICC arrest warrant to the court without delay.”

Mr Kushayb will be the first Darfur suspect to be tried at the court, and Ms Bensouda thanked all parties involved in his surrender.

She particularly thanked the governments of the Central African Republic, Chad, France and the Netherlands, and the UN mission to the Central African Republic.

“A window of opportunity has been opened,” Ms Bensouda said.

“We must collectively seize it. Let us work together to finally bring justice to the victims of Darfur.”