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News > World

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir: 3 Decades of Power and War Crimes

  • Sudan's President al-Bashir addresses nation on eve of 63rd Independence Day in Khartoum.

    Sudan's President al-Bashir addresses nation on eve of 63rd Independence Day in Khartoum. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 January 2019

In 2009, the ICC indicted al-Bashir for war crimes and genocide. Still, he continues to govern a country which is spiraling into an economic crisis.

The last day of 2018 in Sudan was the scene of dramatic clashes as security forces arrested dozens of protesters and fired tear gas upon hundreds of others marching to President Omar al-Bashir's palace in Khartoum demanding his resignation and protesting against soaring prices and inflation.

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Armored vehicles decked out with machine guns lined the surrounding streets and officers observed the procession from rooftops, according to a Reuters report. Some in the crowd chanted, "The people want the fall of the regime," a slogan echoed from the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprisings that shook nations across the region.

President al-Bashir, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, appeared on national television later, stony-faced and acknowledging that the country was indeed facing challenges  -- making a promise to address them.

"We are confident that we are close to overcoming this difficult and temporary period," al-Bashir , now 74, said. He did not mention the unrest, which has become international news since protests first broke out in the northeastern city of Atbara Dec. 19.

During his 30 years of power, the country has been endured troubling and bloody conflicts such as the Darfur War, the secession of South Sudan, and an economic crisis that has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks.

While not the direct cause of Sudan’s turbulent history, al-Bashir remains a controversial character who has reigned for almost half of the lifespan of the country, which gained its independence from the United Kingdom on Jan. 1, 1954.

He is the first head of state to be indicted for war crimes and still retain power.

The former army commander seized power in a coup in 1989. He led the operation for the National Islamic Front (NIF) which was under the leadership of religious extremist, Hasan al-Turabi, and successfully ousted the former government led by Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi. He was then named Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC).

Sudanese demonstrators run from teargas l obbed to disperse them as they march along the street during anti-government protests in Khartoum. | Source: Reuters

Four years later, the RCC dissolved and al-Bashir appointed himself president. His rise to power came amidst a 21-year civil war between the northern and southern regions of the country.

Though his government signed an agreement to end that conflict in 2005, the Darfur War was unfolding in the impoverished west region around the same time. Between 100,000 and 400,000 people were killed and millions displaced during what became known as the first genocide of the 21st century.

The conflict started when in April of 2003, several ethnic rebel groups staged a rebellion and attacked a government military airfield, kidnapping an air force general. The government allegedly retaliated by arming the Janjaweed militia forces, resulting in mass violence against Darfur citizens though the government denies the claims.

In 2009, the International Criminal Court indicted President al-Bashir and several members of his cabinet for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity linked to the Darfur War. The warrant for his arrest included an international travel ban. However, this has not prevented him from making trips around the region, including to Ethiopia, Libya, Qatar and Egypt. Exactly 19 days after the arrest warrant was issued, al-Bashir made his first international trip to Eritrea.

The Sudanese government has critiqued the ICC, saying the court has little power to enforce the arrest warrant, though acknowledging that the president could be arrested while in any country that signed the Rome Statute treaty which established the court in 1998.

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Already with a track record of war crime indictments, al-Bashir went on to join Saudi Arabia’s coalition in the Yemeni war, which has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people, to back the Yemeni government in 2015 after Houthi rebels seized control of the capital, Sanaa, and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.

Out of 12 countries in the Saudi-alliance, Sudan has deployed ground troops to Yemen by the thousands providing at least 3,000 of 10,000 ground troops as well as several fighter jets. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the United Nations and other human rights organizations over the direct targeting of civilians in schools, hospitals, funerals, and weddings. 

Also, children, many from the Darfur region, have made up around 20 to 40 percent of the Sudanese units in Yemen,  multiple Sudanese soldiers who have returned from fighting in the war told the New York Times in a recent report.

Now into 2019, al-Bashir continues to govern Sudan, which has sunk into a grueling economic crisis after the southern half of the country voted to secede in 2011, taking three-quarters of the country's oil output with it. People have become so desperate that when Saudi Arabia offered to pay up to US$10,000 per head for soldiers to fight in Yemen, families bribed Sudanese officials to take their sons.

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