Q&A: What is the role of the International Criminal Court?

Omar Al Bashir, Sudan’s ousted president, is due to face charges at the court in The Hague

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 22, 2009 then Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir listens during a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo.  Sudan has agreed to hand over ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir and others to the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur, a top official of the new ruling body said on February 11, 2020. / AFP / Khaled DESOUKI
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Sudan’s former President Omar Al Bashir is due to face charges at the International Criminal Court on war crimes committed during the conflict in Darfur.

Mr Bashir, who was ousted from the Sudanese leadership last year after three decades in power, is the first sitting president to be indicted by the court. He was also the first to face charges on the crime of genocide when the warrants were issued in 2009. Sudan’s ruling sovereign council agreed on Tuesday to hand the former president and others over to the ICC.

What is the International Criminal Court?

The ICC is based in The Hague in The Netherlands. It investigates and tries individuals “charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community”. These crimes include genocide, war crimes plus crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. The court intervenes when national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute.

Does its authority stretch across the world?

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, a treaty adopted in 1998 and ratified in 2002. So far, 123 countries are party to its jurisdiction. The court can only investigate and prosecute the four core international crimes in situations and its jurisdiction is complementary to domestic courts. The court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a state that is party to the agreement or those committed by citizen of the country. It can also take on case authorised by the United Nations Security Council.

What is Omar Al Bashir accused of?

Mr Bashir is accused of crimes relating to the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, which broke out in 2003. The charges include five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes and three counts of genocide.

International warrants for Mr Bashir’s arrest were issued by the court first in 2009 and then in 2010.

How was Omar Al Bashir able to avoid arrest?

Sudan signed the Rome Statute, which established the court, but never ratified the treaty and as president Mr Bashir refused to submit himself to justice. Mr Bashir could travel to countries that were not party to the agreement, which include China and Russia.

In 2018, he attended the World Cup in Russia, where he kicked a football during an airport welcome ceremony and watched matches from luxury seating.

Last year Mr Bashir was ousted by the military and detained, after four months of popular protests demanding his resignation. The current rulers have now agreed with rebel groups in Darfur to hand over Mr Bashir, despite initially saying the 76-year-old would be tried at home. In Sudan, people over the age of 70 cannot serve prison terms.

Who has been convicted by the ICC?

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo became the first person ever to be convicted by the ICC in 2012. The former Democratic Republic of Congo warlord was jailed for 14 years for recruiting and using child soldiers.

Other high-profile convictions include Congolese rebel leaders Germain Katanga in 2014, who was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, and Bosco Ntaganda, who was given the longest sentence ever handed down by the ICC – 30 years.