On Wednesday February 11, a member of the Sudanese ruling council, Mohammed Hassan Eltaish agreed to hand the former president, Omar al-Bashir, over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), following a 2010 warrant for his arrest (Declan and Dahir, 2020). Throughout his rule al-Bashir was widely disliked, but his ousting in 2019 has left citizens and critics feeling wary of whether the new rule will actually transition towards democracy or if it is just another authoritarian regime (Walsh and Goldstein, 2019). Because the new government shows many warning signs of authoritarianism, a deal with the ICC to hand over al-Bashir could challenge the gatekeeping practices of the international community and the media, which could put the Sudanese citizens in danger of moving towards another authoritarian leadership and away from a democracy.
Al-Bashir and the Accusations Against Him
Al-Bashir was known as a violent, ruthless authoritarian leader who ruled Sudan for 30 years. He is being accused by the ICC of overseeing violent war crimes in Darfur during conflict which began in 2003. Armed conflict broke out in Darfur between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). In response, Al-Bashir unlawfully attacked Darfurian civilians, most of whom belonged to three minority ethnic groups, the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa, who were thought to be connected to the SLM/A and the JEM. The attack lasted five years and included the murder, torture, and rape of over a hundred thousand innocent Sudanese civilians. Since then, the ICC has put out a warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide (International Criminal Court, 2018).
Who is Currently in Power in Sudan
In 2019, al-Bashir was unseated in a military coup and replaced by Lt. General Ibn Auf, the former defense minister and advisor to al-Bashir. Ibn Auf became president despite state-sanctions placed against him in 2007 for his role in the same crimes in the conflict in Darfur. (Walsh and Goldstein, 2019) The new government promised to rule Sudan with the joint leadership of military officials and civilians, with a military official in charge for the first twenty-one months and a civilian for the next fifteen. (Walsh and Dahir, 2020)
Their promise for peaceful abdication of power sounds promising for an eventual transition towards democracy; however, the new government exhibits many red flags of authoritarianism which make it seem unlikely that such a transition could actually happen.
Authoritarian Tendencies in The New Sudanese Government
According to How Democracies Die, authoritarian power often can be identified by four characteristics. The book argues that authoritarians often reject the democratic rules of the game, deny legitimacy to political opponents, tolerate or even encourage violence, and readily limit civil liberties of civilians and potential opponents (Levistky and Ziblatt, 2018). It is notable that new government announced they will release political prisoners and suspend Sudan’s current constitution (exemplifying a lack of respect for the democratic rules of the game) and created a ten pm curfew for all civilians (a limitation of their civil liberties) (Walsh and Goldstein, 2019). These red flags likely indicate that al-Bashir’s ousting has served to give another authoritarian leader power in Sudan, rather than create a democratic government.
What Working with the ICC Would Mean for the Sudanese Government
Though al-Bashir lead Sudan during the conflict in Darfur, many military leaders under him, who now help rule the country, also committed crimes in Darfur. Therefore, it is important to recognize that in agreeing to hand al-Bashir over to the ICC, the new governing body stipulated “that the international court would not issue any indictments against other Sudanese officials over their actions in Darfur” (Walsh and Dahir, 2020). This would mean that people currently in power would be acquitted of their crimes in Darfur and would feel less international pressure to avoid similar criminal action in the future. This could open a door for even more dangerous and unjust authoritarian leadership in Sudan.
It is important to acknowledge that the promise to hand over al-Bashir could end up never happening at all. Though it was announced by a civilian ruling council member, it has not been confirmed by any military ruling council members, making it unclear if such a deal is unanimously supported. Second, al-Bashir was not specifically named in this promise to the ICC, his name was only implied from the statement. Lastly, as of Tuesday the ICC had not been contacted by the Sudanese government about a deal (Walsh and Dahir, 2020). By this reasoning, it seems that this could just be a media stunt to increase the Sudanese government’s international legitimacy and show potential party opposition of their seriousness as a governing body, a common tactic from newly formed authoritarian regimes.
Regardless of whether this promise will come
to fruition in the future, it is important to recognize the implications a deal
like this could have on the legitimacy of the new Sudanese government. Despite
its authoritarian qualities, a deal like this would bolster the international
legitimacy of the Sudanese government. Legitimizing an authoritarian government
is dangerous because it could increase the power of the new leadership, giving them
the influence necessary to limit civil liberties and basic human rights of the
Sudanese people. In this situation, the international community and the media have
a duty to act as gatekeepers to democracy and to keep this new government from
gaining the international traction needed to grow into an overtly dangerous and
unjust governing body. This begs the question, should the media and the ICC make
sure al-Bashir is held responsible for his actions and encourage this deal with
the Sudanese government, or is such a deal too much of a risk to the movement towards
global democracy? While it is unclear if the ICC will actually get to arrest
al-Bashir, this question of the international community’s role in fostering
democracy is important to consider for Sudan today, and for authoritarian
regimes forming in the future.
“About the International Criminal Court.” About the ICC, 17 July 1998, www.icc-cpi.int/about.
International Criminal Court, “Situation in Darfur, Sudan: The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir.” Situation in Darfur, Sudan: The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, Apr. 2018.
Levistky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. “The Great Republican Abdication.” How Democracies Die, Penguin Random House LLC.
Rodoreda, Marina Riera. “Permanent Premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands.” US Threatens International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/15/us-threatens-international-criminal-court.
Walsh, Declan, and Joseph Goldstein. “Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir Is Ousted, but Not His Regime.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/world/africa/sudan-omar-hassan-al-bashir.html.
Walsh, Declan, and Abdi Latif Dahir. “Sudan’s Ex-Ruler May Face War Crimes Trial, Official Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Feb. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/02/11/world/africa/sudans-ex-ruler-may-face-war-crimes-trial-official-says.html.