Sudan's Bashir dodged war crimes charges for a decade

Wednesday February 12 2020

Sudan's Omar al-Bashir

Sudan's Omar al-Bashir 

By AFP

Sudan's Omar al-Bashir spent a decade flouting international arrest warrants on war crimes charges, travelling overseas in open defiance of the International Criminal Court.

But after mass protests brought an end to his three decades of iron-fisted rule last year, Bashir looks set to finally appear before The Hague-based ICC for his role in the Darfur conflict.

The 75-year-old has been held in prison since his ouster in April on corruption charges that saw him sentenced in December to two years in a correctional centre for the elderly.

One of Africa's longest-serving presidents, Bashir showed many different faces during his 30 years in power.

Known for his trademark dancing and waving of a stick before addressing loyalists, Bashir had remained defiant in the face of growing street protests in the months before his overthrow.

But his fate was sealed when the army intervened to oust Bashir, who swept to power in a coup backed by Islamists in 1989.

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For years the Sudanese leader had proven himself to be a political survivor, evading not only the ICC but also a myriad of domestic challenges.

A career soldier, Bashir was well known for his populist touch, insisting on being close to crowds and addressing them in colloquial Sudanese Arabic.

He was indicted by the Hague-based ICC in 2009 on war crimes charges over a long-running conflict in Darfur, but went on to win re-election twice in polls boycotted by opposition groups.

In 2010, he was also indicted by the ICC for alleged genocide.

But it was a government decision to triple bread prices that brought protesters onto the streets in December 2018, as the country grappled with regular shortages of food, medicines and foreign currency.

The protests morphed into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir's rule, triggering unrest that left dozens dead, hundreds wounded and thousands jailed.

Diplomatic moves

Despite the ICC indictments, Bashir had regularly travelled overseas within Africa and further afield to countries including Russia and China.

Days before the protests erupted, he flew to Damascus to meet Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, becoming the first Arab leader to do so since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

At home in 2018, Bashir hosted talks between neighbouring South Sudan's leaders, helping to broker a tentative peace deal after five years of intense conflict in the world's newest country.

South Sudan had gained its independence in 2011, when Bashir surprised his critics by giving his blessing to a secession that saw the south take the bulk of Sudan's oil fields, some six years after a peace deal ended two decades of conflict between north and south.  

He also joined a Saudi-led coalition against Shiite rebels in Yemen, improving ties with energy-rich Gulf states, although the policy has been criticised by his opponents at home.

Bashir, who has two wives and no children, was born in 1944 in Hosh Bannaga, north of Khartoum, to a farming family.

He entered the military at a young age, rising through the ranks and joining an elite parachute regiment.

He fought alongside the Egyptian army in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

In 1989, then a brigade commander, he led a bloodless coup against the democratically elected government.

"Bashir became skilful over time. He learned the trade. At the beginning, he was not a prominent figure," said Marc Lavergne, an Africa expert at the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris.

Hosting bin Laden

Bashir led Sudan towards a more radical brand of Islam, hosting Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and sending jihadist volunteers to fight in the country's civil war with the south Sudanese.

In 1993, Washington put Sudan on its list of "state sponsors of terrorism" and four years later slapped Khartoum with a trade embargo -- only lifted in 2017 -- over charges that included human rights abuses.

When insurgents launched a rebellion in Darfur in 2003, his government's decision to unleash the armed forces and allied militia brought him further international criticism.

Around 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict, the United Nations says, and more than two million displaced.

But it was corruption charges that landed him in court in Sudan, where he was accused of illegally acquiring and using foreign funds.

Bashir admitted to having received a total of $90 million from Saudi leaders. The graft trial centred on $25 million received from Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Bashir also faces separate charges over the deaths of protesters and the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

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