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Sudan: currying favour with Israel to please Trump

28th Feb 2020
Sudan: currying favour with Israel to please Trump

Israeli Prime Ministe Benjamin Netanyahu and Head of Sudan’s Sovereign Transitional Council Abdel Fattah al Burhan (Credit: The Kremlin CC)

Ahmed Rajab

Sudan’s new rulers’ willingness to hand former President Omar al-Bashir over to the International Court of Justice (ICC) should be seen against the backdrop of their appeasement towards Israel. Of late, encouraged by their Saudi and UAE backers, the Sudanese have been engaging in talks with the Israelis aimed at normalising relations between their countries.

A highlight of these dealings was the meeting on February 3 in Entebbe, Uganda, between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Transitional Council, a joint military-civilian body that has been ruling the country since the military overthrew al-Bashir on April 11, 2019.

The fact that the Transitional Council was kept in the dark and was not consulted about the meeting speaks volumes of its real intent and of who was really behind it. It was, by any standards, a radical departure from Khartoum’s norm, although Sudan was known to have had clandestine meetings with Israel at a lower level on several occasions in the past.

The Sudanese hope that such a dalliance with the Israelis will mollify Trump’s hard-line position and remove Sudan from the blacklist of the so-called state sponsors of terrorism. Sudan has been on the list since the 1990s, when it hosted Osama bin Laden, the al Qa’ida founder. The Sudanese also hope that the debilitating international sanctions imposed on their country will be lifted.

Sudan’s removal from the list will enable it to end its pariah status and open its doors to much-needed Western investment. The Sudanese economy has been severely affected by the sanctions as well as by the loss of some 70 per cent of its oil revenue as a result of the dismemberment of Africa’s once largest country and the creation of an independent South Sudan under al-Bashir’s watch.

The ICC issued two arrest warrants — in 2009 and 2010 — for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He was the first sitting head-of-state to be charged by The Hague-based ICC. The charges are related to atrocities committed in the country’s western region of Darfur. At least 300,000 people were killed as a result and more than 2.5 million were displaced.

At present the former President is serving a two-year sentence in Khartoum’s notorious Kober Prison after a local court convicted him of corruption. He has denied all the allegations against him and has refused to recognise the court’s legitimacy. Also, wanted by the ICC for their roles in the Darfur infamy are four of Al-Bashir’s former senior aides: Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein, Ahmed Mohammed Harun, Ali Kushayb and Abdallah Banda.

While Hussein and Harun are held in Khartoum where they were apprehended when al-Bashir was ousted, the whereabouts of the last two are unknown. Harun played a pivotal role in the Darfur operations. While he was the Minister of State for Internal Affairs, he was also in charge of the Darfur Security Desk.

This meant that he was the chief coordinator of the various Government bodies that were involved in the counterinsurgency campaign in the region. These included the police, the much-dreaded Janjaweed militia, the Armed Forces and the Intelligence Service. He gained notoriety for allegedly recruiting, arming and funding the Janjaweed and inciting attacks against civilians. He has also been accused of ordering the Janjaweed to kill, rape and torture civilians. The ICC has charged him with 20 counts of crimes against humanity and 22 counts of war crimes.

Another close ally of al-Bashir, Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein, has been charged with 20 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes. Hussein, a former member of the Sudanese Air Force, who at one point was also Minister of Interior as well as of Defence, has been accused of recruiting, arming and funding police forces and the Janjaweed in Darfur.

Ali Kushayb (real name Ali Mohamed Ali Abd al Rahman), a former senior Janjaweed commander, has been accused by the ICC of ordering killings, rapes, and looting. Witnesses have also accused him of personally participating in attacks in various towns in Darfur.

The possibility of extraditing al-Bashir to the ICC had been on the cards since when he was overthrown. He had been in power since 1989 when he dislodged an elected civilian government in a bloodless military coup.

The new Government had been holding talks with the rebels in Juba, in a bid to reach national reconciliation. A major sticking point had been the rebels’ key demand that the Government hand al-Bashir over to the ICC to stand trial for his role during the civil war in Darfur.

The decision, at the end of the protracted Juba talks last week, did not, however, come as a total surprise. Sudan’s new rulers had already indicated earlier in November that they were willing to hand al-Bashir over to the ICC.

However, despite its recent no-nonsense tone it is difficult to see how the ruling Transitional Council can accomplish the feat without ruffling the military’s feathers. At least two of the military strongmen, General Burhan and his deputy, the feared General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti”, are heavily implicated in the Darfur atrocities.

Hemeti, a former brigade commander of the Janjaweed, also headed the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) during the popular uprising which led to al-Bashir’s removal from power. RSF members had been accused of killing demonstrators during the street protests and there had been calls for the culprits to also be held into account for the killings, including turning them to the ICC.

The ICC’s arrest warrants against the Sudanese are highly controversial to say the least. To date, it remains unclear, however, whether the Sudanese authorities will extradite al-Bashir to The Hague or whether some arrangement will be made for him to be tried in Sudan under the auspices of the ICC or under Sudanese jurisdiction.

According to legal sources in Khartoum, the Sudanese judicial system is skewed and needs serious reforms to make it independent and transparent. Numerous senior judges, for example, are al-Bashir’s appointees.

Ahmed Rajab
International journalist & Associate The Gusau Institute (Kaduna, Nigeria)

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