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Sudan’s deposed ruler Omar al-Bashir faces trial over corruption

Sudan‘s former president Omar al-Bashir is due to go on trial for corruption allegations, which brought down his 30-year rule.

The deposed leader, whose trial begins on Monday, faces charges related to “possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally”.

Bashir’s trial comes against the backdrop of the country’s struggle to form a sovereign council, the first step after the landmark adoption of a transitional constitution. On Saturday, protest leaders and the military signed a final power-sharing deal, paving the way for a transition to a civilian-led government.

Al-Bashir seized power in a military coup on June 30, 1989, and stayed in office until April 11, 2019, when he was overthrown and arrested by the armed forces.

His downfall was brought about by thousands of ordinary Sudanese from all walks of life who took to the streets for four months to demand an end to the 75-year-old’s rule.

The demonstrations erupted over rising food prices before morphing into broader demands for political change, the culmination of years of anger over long-standing corruption and repression. 

Prosecutors have also opened other criminal probes against al-Bashir, including on charges of money laundering, financing “terrorism” and “ordering the killing of protesters” – the latter is an offence that carries the death penalty in Sudan. 

Ahead of the trial, Amnesty International‘s Director for East Africa Joan Nyanyuki said in a statement: “While this trial is a positive step towards accountability for some of his alleged crimes, he remains wanted for heinous crimes committed against the Sudanese people.”

Over the course of his time in office, al-Bashir led Sudan through several conflicts and became wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged atrocities in Darfur. He was also the last man to lead a united Sudan, prior to South Sudan’s independence in 2011.

Here’s all you need to know about Sudan’s toppled ruler.

Rise to power

Al-Bashir was born into a peasant family in 1944, in Hosh Wad Banaqa, northern Sudan, which until independence in 1955 was part of the Kingdom of Egypt and Sudan. After finishing high school in the capital, Khartoum, he enrolled in a military academy in Egypt in 1960. In 1973, he was part of the Sudanese units that were sent to Egypt to fight in the October Arab-Israeli war. 

In 1975, he was appointed as the military attache in the United Arab Emirates. Upon returning to Sudan, he was appointed garrison commander and, in 1981, he became the head of an armoured parachute brigade.

In the mid-1980s, he had a central role in the armed forces’ campaign in the civil war in southern Sudan against the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

As a colonel in the Sudanese military, al-Bashir was well-positioned to lead a bloodless military coup in 1989 against Sadiq al-Mahdi, the prime minister of a democratically elected government.

Al-Bashir was subsequently appointed chairman of the Revolutionary Command Centre for National Salvation (RCC), which was established as a “transitional” government.

Having allied with Hassan al-Turabi, the speaker of the Sudanese parliament and head of the National Islamic Front, al-Bashir dissolved parliament, banned political parties and went on to introduce Islamic law.

The mainly animist and Christian southern Sudan rejected the introduction of the new legal system, and the decades-long north-south civil war intensified.

Sudan’s ousted president Omar Al-Bashir appears before prosecutor

Political conflict

In 1993, al-Bashir abolished the RCC and appointed himself president of Sudan, but retained military rule.

Three years later, Sudan held presidential and parliamentary elections, and al-Bashir, running completely unopposed for president, won with 75 percent of the vote. He would eventually legalise the registration of political parties in 1999.

Later that year, al-Bashir removed al-Turabi from his post as parliament speaker and had him imprisoned. Al-Turabi had grown increasingly close to Muslim political groups unpopular in the West.

In 2000, al-Bashir was re-elected after winning 90 percent of a popular vote in an election described as a sham by the opposition. 

A wanted man

Al-Bashir was the only serving head of state to be indicted for war crimes. 

Although Bashir’s government signed a peace deal in 2005 to end a years-long conflict between the north and south, the leader and several senior ministers in his cabinet have been criticised for what the United Nations has called “ethnic cleansing” during another conflict that broke out in the western province of Darfur.

The tribes of Darfur – home to several non-Arab tribes who rebelled against the government in 2003 – accused al-Bashir’s administration of siding with Arab tribes in a decades-old fight over scarce resources among the province’s communities. 

The UN estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 people died in the conflict, with a further 2.7 million displaced. But al-Bashir’s government claimed that the UN, influenced by Western powers, had exaggerated the numbers.

In June 2008, the ICC charged al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the ongoing attacks against Darfur’s non-Arab ethnic groups. The ICC has since issued two arrest warrants against him. 

Unless he is handed over to the ICC, it is unlikely that Bashir will be prosecuted for the alleged war crimes, according to legal experts.

“We have urged the Sudan authorities to hand al-Bashir over to the ICC to answer for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide,” Ahmed Elzobeir, Sudan researcher at Amnesty International told Al Jazeera.

“Al-Bashir must face justice not only for recent national crimes but also for the historical crimes he committed under international law,” he added.

The Sudanese legal system would not be able to prosecute al-Bashir for the alleged crimes because they were committed before Sudan introduced war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity to the Criminal Act in 2009, according to legal experts.

“His trial in Sudan would violate a basic legal principle, no one shall be convicted for acts committed before the law entered into force,” explained Elzobeir.

Despite the arrest warrants, al-Bashir has visited several countries including Syria, Ethiopia, Libya, Qatar, Egypt and South Africa.

In 2010, al-Bashir was re-elected with roughly 68 percent of the vote. The opposition alleged fraud and election observers said the polls did not meet international standards.

The following year, southern Sudanese citizens overwhelmingly backed splitting from the north in a referendum, which led to the creation of the world’s youngest country.

The 2011 secession of South Sudan deprived Sudan of the majority of its oil revenues and stoked spiralling inflation and widespread shortages.

As a result, opposition groups and ordinary citizens increasingly began expressing their anger with the inability of al-Bashir’s government to address their grievances, improve economic conditions and introduce political reforms.

Article source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/sudan-deposed-ruler-omar-al-bashir-faces-trial-corruption-190816160049237.html

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