In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about the Butcher of Darfur

Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir is to face genocide trial at The Hague

The ousted Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir will be handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Nicknamed the “Butcher of Darfur”, Bashir is being delivered to the Netherlands by Sudan’s joint civilian and military government, which is running the country during a three-year transition to elections in 2022.

His rule came to end in April 2019 after demonstrations led to mass protests at the gates of the military headquarters in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Who is the Butcher of Darfur?

Bashir is the former dictator of Sudan, and is wanted on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges stem from his direction of mass killings during the conflict in Darfur, which began in 2003.

He was overthrown last year following mass protests, stemming from anger over the rising cost of food. During the protests, some of the armed forces deserted their posts to defend the demonstrators from pro-Bashir militiamen.

Without military support, Bashir was forced to step down and power passed into the hands of his lieutenants, some of whom have also been accused of war crimes.

Military and civilian leaders subsequently agreed a power-sharing arrangement, in which the military leadership will move aside to allow civilian control next year. Elections for a fully civilian government will follow in 2022.

Bashir is the first head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued an arrest warrant for him in 2009.

However, he continued to travel freely in Africa, the Middle East and China, being hosted by governments who refused to turn him over to The Hague, says The Times.

He was eventually tried and sentenced in Sudan for financial crimes in December last year, and has been in custody ever since.

How did he earn his nickname?

Bashir became known as the “Butcher of Darfur” after directing the Janjawid Arab militia to violently suppress a rebellion in 2003.

He oversaw atrocities and genocide carried out by Janjaweed and Sudanese government forces during the conflict. 

The UN estimates that around 300,000 people were killed, with around 2.7 million forced from their homes.

Bashir was indicted by the ICC on 4 March 2009 with five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes:

  • Attack against a civilian population, constituting a war crime
  • Pillaging, constituting a war crime
  • Murder, constituting a crime against humanity
  • Extermination, constituting a crime against humanity
  • Forcible transfer of a population, constituting a crime against humanity
  • Torture, constituting a crime against humanity
  • Rape, constituting a crime against humanity

On 12 July 2010, he was charged by the ICC with three additional counts of genocide:

  • Killing, constituting a crime of genocide
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm, constituting a crime of genocide
  • Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destitution, constituting a crime of genocide
Will he face justice?

The agreement to hand Bashir over was made between Sudan’s transitional government and Darfur rebels during peace talks in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan.

Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of the Sovereign Council that took over Sudan after Bashir was overthrown, said the government would hand over all those for whom the ICC had issued arrest warrants.

“Those who have been indicted by the ICC, they have to go there,” said Taishi in a statement. “Second, a special court must be set up to investigate crimes committed in Darfur.”

Three of Bashir’s most senior aides are also wanted by the ICC.

The ICC prosecutor said in December that justice must be “finally served for the victims of atrocity crimes in Darfur – either in a Sudanese court, or before the ICC”.

However, the Financial Times notes that the ICC has a “patchy record” when it comes to prosecuting people for serious war crimes.

Last year it sentenced Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese former rebel leader, to 30 years in prison. But it has since been claimed that it is “not clear whether the ICC… had assembled a watertight case against Mr Bashir”.

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