Omar Al Bashir falls – An opportunity for Darfur?

Since April 6, thousands of people have been staging a sit-in outside of the Ministry of Defense complex, which also houses Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir’s residence, calling for the leader’s resignation. Protest and demonstrations have been going on since December, pushing the aging President, who ruled the country for 30 years, to declare the state of emergency on February 22. But the Sudanese population is not giving-up and continues to push for the war criminal, under ICC arrest warrant, to step down.

The situation has evolved has over the past days and the army, or at least a part of army decided to protect the demonstrators from the repression orchestrated by security forces loyal to Bashir. Events are now going even faster as military forces took control of of national TV and radio; Bashir is evicted, there are talks of forming a transitional council. Even more important when thinking about all who suffered the crimes committed in Darfur, Ahmad Haroun has been arrested. Both him and Omar al Bashir are under arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court. Some hope that they will be transferred to The Hague, which seem to be a low probability if the Sudanese army is taking power, and which would certainly be a disaster knowing how unprepared the ICC is for such a trial.

Al Bashir’s Militias

Earlier this wee I read this:
“at around 2:00am, militias riding vehicles of the Rapid Support Forces began attacking protesters”. It suddenly reminded me of the time spend in Darfur in 2007 – 2008, before most humanitarian organizations being expelled from the desolated region and from the country in a move by the authorities to shut down the few international voices calling for a stop to atrocities committed by all groups.

For anyone who has lived and worked in Darfur the mention of Rapid Support Forces (RSF) brings back bad memories. Paramilitary forces operated by the Sudanese Government they are administered by the National Intelligence and Security Service and found their roots in the so called Janjaweed Militias used by the Government in its attempts to fight the insurgency in Darfur. The RSF was officially formed in August 2013 under the command of intelligence services (close and loyal to Bashir), following a restructuring and reactivation of Janjaweed militias in order to combat rebel groups in Darfur region, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states. These paramilitary groups are responsible for numerous atrocities across the country and now used against protesters. And this is most probably the last card this regime can play.

I’ve decided to share within this post photos taken in Darfur in 2007 and 2008 while I was working with Solidarités international so that we don’t forget about Darfur and what the populations there have been enduring since 2003 and the beginning of the war..

Is the fall of Al Bashir an opportunity for Darfur?

On February 25, citing solidarity with protests over economic and political conditions in Sudan, two groups — the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA/MM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), both non-signatories of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur — have gone back on an agreement to resume talks with the Government, said Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa. The result is a standstill in the peace process, despite relative stability throughout Darfur apart from the Jebel Marra area where sporadic clashes persist between Government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) faction.

Populations in Jebel Marra have suffered enough; mountainous and fertile area, the Jebel Marra has long been the stronghold of SLA- Abdul Wahid faction and besieged by government military forces and militias.

The country-wide state of emergency in Sudan declared by its President on 22 February put a question mark over the peace process in Darfur and plans to draw down the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission there by the middle of 2020 but now that the regime, or at least part of it is falling, there is an urgent need for the United Nations to reinforce its presence in Sudan, across the conflict zones, and to ensure the protection of populations, which the international organizations (both the UN and the AU) have failed to do for more than a decade.

Arrested and in custody of his former army, Bashir can fear facing Slobodan Milošević’s fate, betrayal by successors and being handed over to international jurisdiction. If he goes to a country not party to the ICC, potentially after a fake trial organized by the transitional regime, he could fear changed circumstances that might eventually result in his delivery to an international court as occurred with Charles Taylor. Taylor reportedly received international guarantees that he would avoid prosecution before his resignation as Liberian President in August 2003. In March 2006, reportedly under U.S. pressure, Nigerian authorities, who had granted Taylor exile, arrested and extradited him to Liberia, where he was handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international tribunal.

There is hope for a new phase to start in Sudan and for the populations of Darfur and other regions to find a level of justice. We should praise all Sudanese who demonstrated since December and, like in Algeria, finally managed to get rid of their old dictator.

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