NEW YORK – A decade after now-deposed Sudanese President and dictator Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide targeting his own people, he may stand trial in The Hague.
Sudan’s governing Sovereign Council announced today that the country has agreed to send those wanted by the ICC to The Hague. Today’s announcement comes out of peace negotiations between Sudan’s current transitional regime and groups representing the Darfur region, where an ongoing war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. Although no timeline was indicated, the development represents an important step forward as part of broader transitional justice and accountability efforts for wide-ranging human rights violations.
“In the 10 years since the International Criminal Court charged former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir with two counts of war crimes, five counts of crimes against humanity, and three counts of genocide, he has never faced accountability for the systematic killings, rape, and torture his regime committed against the Sudanese people. Sudanese security forces’ widespread attacks on civilians under Bashir’s campaign of terror, including pervasive sexual violence as a weapon of war, have had devastating impacts on the lives and livelihoods of their victims.
“Despite the two arrest warrants issued by the ICC in 2009 and 2010, respectively, al-Bashir’s violent leadership continued. In just the last two years, as thousands of protesters peacefully demonstrated against government corruption, economic mismanagement, and brutal repression, security forces have killed at least 90 protesters, targeted and arrested dozens of medical professionals, and attacked at least seven medical facilities, violating international norms by impeding care for the sick and wounded.
“At long last, al-Bashir, ousted from power in April 2019, could be forced to stand trial for gross human rights violations. It is beyond time that his victims and their families receive justice.
“To make good on fully transitioning toward a civilian-led democracy, the Sudanese government must respect fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, remove immunity for law enforcement officials accused of serious human rights violations, and adopt international definitions of torture into national law. Furthermore, the government must ensure that hospitals are treated as places of neutrality, which cannot be attacked by military and security personnel and where medical professionals can carry out their ethical obligations to treat all patients without discrimination. PHR calls on the international community to continue to monitor the human rights situation in Sudan.”
The United Nations estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 people died in the conflict in Darfur and millions more were displaced. While Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, the 2009 warrant of arrest for al-Bashir was the first ever issued by the court for a sitting head of state, and the 2010 warrant of arrest marked the first time the court issued one for the crime of genocide.
PHR began investigating the assault on Darfur in 2004, collecting eyewitness testimony from dozens of Darfurian refugees in neighboring Chad and publishing findings in the report “Darfur: Assault on Survival.” Another PHR report, “The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the Conflict in Darfur, Sudan,” documents a campaign of rape by the Janjaweed militias in concert with the government of Sudan. PHR’s work in 2009, in partnership with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, culminated in another exposé entitled “Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women,” documenting the scope and long-term impact of rape and other sexual violence experienced by these women.
PHR’s research in the region spurred the Stop Mass Rape in Darfur and Chad campaign and the Darfur Survival Campaign, which mobilized health professionals, students, and members of the general public to press for urgently needed security in Darfur and for the prosecution of perpetrators by the ICC for the crime of genocide.
PHR was also a member of the Save Darfur Coalition, a group of more than 190 religious, political, and human rights organizations to raise awareness and mobilize a response to the atrocities in the region.
In April 2019, PHR released a report on massive violations of human rights committed by al-Bashir’s forces since largely peaceful protests began in December 2018, including the use of disproportionate, unnecessary, and sometimes lethal force. The report, “Intimidation and Persecution: Sudan’s Attacks on Peaceful Protesters and Physicians,” provides specific examples from December 19, 2018, through March 17, 2019 of targeted attacks on peaceful protests and medical professionals who supported or treated protesters. PHR found that during that time period, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services killed 60 protesters, 136 medical professionals were arrested, and state security forces attacked at least seven medical facilities. The report called for accountability for members of the Sudanese government and security forces who have perpetrated crimes against protesters and the medical community and demanded justice for the victims. It also called for independent engagement, monitoring, sanctions, and U.S. legislation that would authorize accountability mechanisms for governments that attack medical personnel, facilities, transport, or supplies.
Additional PHR resources on Sudan include:
- Fact sheet: “Sudan’s Attacks on Peaceful Protesters and Physicians,” July 2019
- Press release: “With Sudan Power-Sharing Plan, PHR Urges Renewed Focus on Accountability, Independent Investigation and Long-Term International Monitoring,” July 5, 2019
- Press release: “Sudanese Rapid Support Forces Are Targeting Hospitals, Peaceful Sit-In; Dozens of Civilians Reported Killed,” June 3, 2019
- Report: “Intimidation and Persecution: Sudan’s Attacks on Peaceful Protesters and Physicians,” April 5, 2019, and associated press release
- Blog: “PHR Joins Coalition to Arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir,” March 6, 2013
- Report: “Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women,” May 1, 2009
- Report: “Darfur – Assault on Survival: A Call for Security, Justice, and Restitution,” January 1, 2006
- Report: The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in Darfur, Sudan, October 1, 2004
- Focus Area: Sexual Violence
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.