The first time there were too many lawyers in the courtroom because of the corona rules. On Monday, August 10, all of a sudden, a request for the release of the prime suspect on bail had to be dealt with. The groundbreaking trial against the Sudanese ex-dictator Omar al-Bashir (76) got off to a difficult start.
It’s not easy to bring former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to justice. The second hearing of the trial for his part in the 1989 coup – against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sadek al-Mahdi – was postponed on Monday because of formal wrangling to release the prime suspects on bail. When the trial continues is unknown.
The first hearing had to be cut short last month because there was insufficient space in the room for as many as 190 lawyers of al-Bashir and the 27 other defendants. Because of the corona rules, everyone was too close together, the judge ruled.
The fallen dictator Al-Bashir is behind bars in the Sudanese capital Khartoum after the first conviction for corruption. The 76-year-old ex-dictator could be sentenced to death if found guilty for his role in the 1989 coup for allegedly undermining the constitution on behalf of an extreme Islamic regime. All defendants must answer for their part in that putsch.
Khartoum is thus experiencing a distinctive process in the Arab world because rarely has the leader of a successful coup d’état been held accountable after thirty years by a transitional government of civilians and military.
The lawsuit is also a legal test case for Sudan, which has long been considered a pariah state internationally and is now hoping for billions in donations from the international community to rebuild the country.
Capital punishment for gays
Believed to be untouchable, Bashir was eventually himself deposed by the army in April 2019 after protracted street protests. His trial is being held at an important moment because the temporary government is still engaged in reforms that are not undisputed for Islamic conservatives. For example, the circumcision of women and girls was banned. Whipping and the death penalty for gays will be abolished.
Peace talks are also still being held with various rebel groups. Against this background, a joint United Nations – African Union peacekeeping mission to the western region of Darfur could be ended in a few months. But many Darfurians fear for their lives if the UN soldiers actually withdraw.
In recent months, the killing, raping, and burning of villages by the same Arab militias of yesteryear has increased again. Hundreds were killed, and thousands of residents fled to neighboring Chad or other parts of Sudan. As yet, no one has been held accountable for these new crimes. In recent weeks, civilians in Darfur have organized more than 10 rallies, demanding more protection from the militias.
A conviction of main suspect Omar al-Bashir is very sensitive in that context. One of 150 lawyers defending the ex-president, Hashem al-Gali, previously said in court that his client and other defendants were facing “a political trial” that he said was being held “in a hostile environment.”
A less hostile environment might be the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. This has also called for the extradition of al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in addition to genocide in Darfur. Sudan authorities said in February that they were ready to hand over the former leader to the ICC.
In The Hague, the trial would mainly revolve around the atrocities in the western region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people under al-Bashir were murdered by the infamous Janjaweed militias armed by him.