Sudan agrees on ICC investigation of war crimes in Dafur

Sudan’s transitional authorities and rebel groups from Darfur have agreed that those wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes in the region should appear before the tribunal, officials have said.

The announcement was made on Tuesday in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, where the two sides are engaged in peace talks.

“We can only achieve justice if we heal the wounds … and we cannot escape from facing these … without the appearance of those against whom arrest warrants were issued by the International Criminal Court,” Mohamed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of Sudan’s sovereign council, told reporters.

Former president Omar al-Bashir, who was overthrown after mass protests last year, is wanted by the ICC, but his name was not mentioned in the statement. Government officials also told news agencies that al-Bashir and other suspects would be handed to the ICC for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

It was not specified when the decision would be carried out, and there was no immediate comment by the ICC.

Al-Bashir was sentenced in December by a court in the capital, Khartoum, to two years’ detention in a correctional centre for corruption in the first of several cases against him. He also faces trials or investigations over the killing of protesters and his role in the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

The government and rebels in late January agreed to establish a special court to prosecute those accused of carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Al-Taishi said he expected the joint committee tasked with drafting the tribunal’s provisions to soon finish its work.

Sudan’s transitional government has pledged to establish peace in conflict-hit regions, including Darfur, and has restarted talks with rebel groups.

“Since talks started between the transitional administration and the rebel groups, handing over the former president has been a key demand to reach a comprehensive agreement,” Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said.

“While the transitional government had previously said handing him over was to be left to an elected government, it seems like they had to make concessions, otherwise the talks would have reached a deadlock.”

Darfur crimes

Conflict spread in Darfur in 2003 after mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum.

Government forces and mainly Arab militias mobilised to suppress the revolt were accused of widespread atrocities.

An estimated 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes.

West Darfur had been largely calm since 2010, though there have been occasional skirmishes over the past three years.

Violence in the West Darfur region in January has killed at least 65 people and wounded more than 50, as well as displacing thousands, according to an international peacekeeping mission.

Following Tuesday’s announcement, one of al-Bashir’s lawyers was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency that the 76-year-old refuses to deal with the international tribunal which he denounced as a “political court”.

Bashir has said the allegations made by the ICC, the world’s first permanent court for prosecuting war crimes, are part of a Western conspiracy.

The Hague-based ICC opened its investigation into Darfur in June 2005, following a referral to the court by the United Nations Security Council.

It issued arrest warrants for Bashir in 2009 and 2010 over his alleged role in war crimes including genocide in Darfur province, which he denies.

Along with al-Bashir, the ICC indicted two other senior officials: Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, who was interior and defence minister during much of the conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time who last month was named by al-Bashir to run the ruling National Congress Party.

Hungry lions saved from wildlife park in Sudan

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A malnourished lion rests inside its cage at Al-Qureshi Park in Khartoum, Sudan January 24, 2020. Conservationists in Sudan are trying to save four lions they say have been underfed and neglected in a wildlife park in the capital Khartoum, after one lion died earlier this week.

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A wildlife veterinarian takes samples from a malnourished lion. The emaciated lions belong to an important subspecies that exists only in limited areas including southeast Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia, said Khalda Seliman Mahgoub of the Sudan Wildlife Research Centre. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

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A malnourished lion walks inside its cage. “Since this is a particular subspecies that we should preserve, I shouldn’t see them in a cage. They should be in their natural habitat,” said Mahgoub.

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Workers assist a wildlife veterinarian as he takes samples from a malnourished lion. It was unclear exactly where the lions had come from but the cages in Al-Qureshi park where they were being kept had been constricting their movement, she said.

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The lions are now being treated after a plea from the Sudan Wildlife Research Centre and an online campaign pointing out their plight. Osman Salih, who first wrote about the big cats on Facebook, described them as being “skin and bones.”

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Al-Qureshi park receives few tourists and little revenue. Sudan has suffered decades of internal conflict and international isolation, and was rocked by months of protests and a political uprising last year.

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A malnourished lion rests inside its cage at Al-Qureshi Park

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A malnourished lion rests inside its cage, flies buzzing around its face.

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Sudanese men walk at the entrance of Al-Qureshi Park.

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A malnourished lion drinks water from a pipe inside its cage at Al-Qureshi Park.

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A malnourished lion walks inside its cage

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A malnourished lion peers from its cage.

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A malnourished lion is seen inside its cage

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A malnourished lion rests inside its cage.

Sudan says no military solution to the war in Yemen

Sudan has 5,000 troops operating in Yemen, down from a peak of 15,000, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Sunday, adding that he believed no military solution was possible.

Briefing journalists on his return from Washington, Hamdok said there had been no discussions during his visit about withdrawing the troops.

“Regarding Yemen we said that there is no military solution and there must be a political solution,” Hamdok told reporters at Khartoum airport.

Sudanese troops have been deployed as part of a Saudi-led alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthi movement that controls the capital.

The conflict is seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis, who control most big urban centers, say they are fighting a corrupt system.

Riyadh has been holding informal talks with the Houthis since late September about a ceasefire, sources have said, as it seeks to exit an unpopular war after its main coalition partner the United Arab Emirates withdrew troops.

The four-year war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Middle Eastern power brokers in Sudan

In Sudan, the revolutionaries who overthrew President Omar al-Bashir and who continue to organize, are well aware of the threat posed by neighboring Arab countries.

Protesters’ murals show the people rejecting the interfering hands of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One of the most popular chants is “Victory or Egypt”, voicing activists’ determination not to succumb to a military counter-revolution as happened in their northern neighbor.

These concerns over meddling are well-placed. After senior military figures in Sudan removed al-Bashir in April, Gulf monarchies promptly stepped in to shore up the new Transitional Military Council (TMC). They transferred $500 million in cash and promised a further $2.5 billion in commodities. Leaders from the respective countries have met regularly and many Sudanese believe that the 3 June crackdown in which scores of protesters were killed only came after the green light from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.

This Arab troika is openly contemptuous of the African Union’s (AU) democratic norms, forums and institutions. When the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) rejected the military takeover and demanded power be transferred to civilians, for example, Egypt undermined this move by insisting the deadline for a handover be extended from 15 to 90 days. Following the 3 June killings, it then tried to twist the arms of the PSC members not to suspend Sudan.

In this struggle between the “Pax Africana” and Arab authoritarians, there’s no doubt that the democrats have the weaker hand. But not everything is going the Arab troika’s way.

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From the massacre to the deal

To begin with, some African states are resisting, albeit weakly. Following 3 June, for instance, the PSC defied Egyptian lobbying and suspended Sudan, in large thanks down to the vigorous chairing of Nigeria.

Following this, the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki, appointed his long-term advisor, Hassan Labat, as envoy to report back on whether Sudan was meeting the conditions for re-admission. Labat’s style is secretive: he shared his proposals with no-one. The whispers around the AU are that Faki, a former Chadian foreign minister, has fallen in line with Chadian President Idriss Déby’s preference for a strong role for the military in Sudan’s government and that Labat’s agenda was drafted accordingly.

Then in early June, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed personally intervened to try to broker a compromise between the TMC and opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FCC). It was a trademark Abiy initiative, undertaken with minimum preparation or consultation, and advocating brotherly love as a solution to a political problem. Nonetheless, it provided an opening for the two sides to talk. Moreover, its power-sharing formula eventually formed the basis for the TMC-FCC agreement signed on 5 July.

The AU’s role in this deal was, however, limited and largely symbolic. The real work was done behind the scenes by US and UK diplomats. In April and May, Western countries had hardly gone beyond routine statements in support of democracy. But by the time of the 3 June massacre, they had begun to see the dangers of the transition drifting perilously off track.

This led the US State Department in mid-June to bring Donald Booth, its former Special Envoy for the Sudans, out of retirement. Since 2018, US and UK officials had been discussing how to coordinate their strategies towards Gulf states and the Horn of Africa. These internal consultations now began to pay off. There’s an established routine of regular meetings between senior diplomats of the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In June the focus was, for the first time ever, on Sudan.

In a quick-fire series of meetings in Arab capitals and London, the Western partners laid out the problem. As they presented it, a bloody crackdown in Khartoum risked further reputational damage for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Coming on the heels of US Congressional rebukes to Saudi Arabia on account of the war in Yemen and a British High Court decision ruling arms sales to the Kingdom illegal, they also warned that there is a constituency in Western countries ready to demonstrate against atrocities in Sudan.

Along with these cautions, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s security chiefs were likely taken aback at the resilience of the Sudanese protesters. Soon after the 3 June massacre, the people were back on the street and planning a “march of the millions” for 30 June. Sudan wasn’t following the script of Bahrain, where the demonstrators dispersed after a single crackdown, or Egypt, where the army took control through co-option and repression.

The US and UK also had reason to push for an agreement in Sudan. Unlike the Arab Spring uprisings in which the Islamists formed a major part of the protest movements, Sudan’s uprising was against an Islamist regime. The TMC and the FFC were both hostile to Sudan’s Islamists, who were sure to be the winner if the two fought one another. Furthermore, a breakdown in order in Sudan risked opening the door to extremists.

These joint motivations finally led to a semi-secret meeting in Khartoum in which TMC and FFC leaders were joined by representatives from the UK, US, Saudi Arabia and UAE. In this gathering, the participants used the previously-drafted Ethiopian formula to hammer out a deal, which was signed on 5 July. The AU envoys Labat and Ethiopia’s Mahmoud Dirir were on hand to provide a public face for the agreement.

Splits within the Arab troika

This story suggests the Arab troika’s influence is limited. Two other dynamics further suggest that Middle Eastern leverage in Sudan is constrained.

The first is divisions within the Arab troika. A major split between Saudi Arabia and the UAE was on show in July when the latter abruptly withdrew most of its forces from Yemen. No official explanation was given, but the decision was evidently not coordinated with Saudi Arabia, which remains bogged down in an intractable war. The UAE’s decision also shows it can be mercurial and that its policies towards the Horn of Africa may be less strategic and more opportunistic than commentators have assumed.

There’s also a deeper division between Egypt, which regards Sudan as its backyard, and the Gulf monarchies. Egypt prides itself on understanding Sudan and sees Saudi Arabia and UAE as newcomers seeking influence solely by dispensing money. Egypt limited its demands on Sudan to handing over Egyptian Islamists in exile, suspending the deal for Turkey to develop a naval base, and ceding its territorial claim to the Halaib Triangle.

Many Egyptian and Sudanese generals, who have a long-standing close relationship, also dislike and fear the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti) who is the deputy leader in the TMC. They cannot understand why Saudi Arabia and the UAE are ready to back him so uncritically.

As Arab countries find themselves pulled in to the internal negotiations among the Sudanese, they will face another potential point of contention. Sudan doesn’t just need democracy, but peace. This means a role for the Islamists both in Khartoum and the provinces. For a decade, the custodian of the Darfur peace process has been Qatar, the troika’s arch rival, and it will be impossible to ignore Qatar’s role or that of Sudan’s diverse constituency of Islamists. Some of these dynamics are already playing out and reveal the lack of a common strategy among the Arab troika.

Among the military officers and politicians arrested on 27-28 July following an alleged coup were veteran Islamists and military officers with no discernible political leanings. What united this otherwise disparate group was their common fear of a government run by Hemedti. It’s likely that senior Egyptian military officers share those misgivings, to the extent of being prepared to deal with selected Islamists. Immediately after the incident, Hemedti flew to Cairo in a clear effort to assuage President al-Sisi.

An impending economic clash

The second dynamic is economic and just beginning to surface.

The nub of the problem is as follows. After the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan lost 75% of its oilfields and an even greater proportion of its hard currency earnings. The following year, it literally struck gold and within a few years, gold was providing 40% of Sudan’s exports. As much as a third of it, however, came to be smuggled to Libya, Chad or directly by plane to the region’s biggest gold market in Dubai.

The government in Khartoum, desperate to control the commodity, responded by using the Central Bank of Sudan as its sole buying agent, paying above the market price to gold traders and printing money to cover this outlay. Buying gold to convert to hard currency became the engine of Sudan’s inflation, which skyrocketed. By 2018, the price of essential commodities such as bread and fuel was so high relative to stagnant wages that the people across the country took to the streets to protest.

The biggest winner in this macroeconomic distortion was Hemedti. His RSF militia controls the gold mines and he personally owns a number of concessions. Through Sudan’s monetary policy, vast resources were transferred from wage earners in the center of the country to militiamen and gold traders in the peripheries.

Hemedti has also benefited massively from providing mercenaries, which may be Sudan’s second biggest source of foreign exchange today. A few months after the Saudis launched their war in Yemen in March 2015, Sudan volunteered to send troops. The first contingent was a battalion of the regular army, but then Hemedti struck a parallel deal to dispatch several brigades of RSF fighters. Within a year, the RSF comprised by far the biggest foreign contingent fighting in Yemen with at least 7,000 militiamen. Hemedti was paid directly by Saudi Arabia and the UAE for this service. He says he deposited $350 million in the Central Bank, but has not said how much he kept to himself for his own enrichment or political spending.

In short, the Central Bank of Sudan has become an instrument for Hemedti’s political finance. And since becoming the central actor in Sudan’s ruling cabal in April, he has exerted an even tighter grip on gold production and exports while moving aggressively into other commercial areas. He has increased the RSF’s deployment in Yemen and sent a brigade to fight in Libya alongside General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt and the UAE, almost certainly in return for Emirati financial rewards. Hemedti is also expanding his family business conglomerate, the Al-Junaid companies, and running his political business on the basis of personally handing out cash to key constituents such as tribal chiefs, the police, and electricity workers.

The issue is that none of this addresses Sudan’s macroeconomic crisis: its rampant inflation, rapidly increasing arrears on international debt, and ostracism from the dollar-based international financial system. In fact, Hemedti’s political financing only exacerbates it.

For the time being, Sudan’s Gulf patrons are bailing out the country with a $200 million monthly subsidy in cash and commodities, but the bailout amounts needed will quickly become too big even for the oil-rich Gulf States’ deep pockets. What Sudan needs is a comprehensive package of debt relief and financial normalisation designed to redress the country’s macroeconomic imbalances. This, in turn, requires an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will require the central bank to be run in a conventional manner that restores discipline to fiscal and monetary policies.

What this means is that a clash between Hemedti’s political market logic and Sudan’s macroeconomy is looming.  The Sudanese technocrats associated with the FFC are well aware of this, which is why the economists called upon to put themselves forward for cabinet positions have been reluctant to agree. There is a race between Hemedti’s consolidation of power and a re-run of the economic crisis and protests that led to al-Bashir’s downfall.

The limits of influence

This dynamic will play out in the streets of Sudanese cities. But it will also play out in debates among the advisers to the Crown Princes in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made a substantial political investment in the TMC on the basis of a security analysis, but economic calculations will increasingly enter the equation. The Arab leaders will come under additional pressure from their own economic advisers and businessmen who have sunk money into Sudanese investments.

So far, the troika has not grappled with the contradiction in their Sudanese policy. That as Sudan’s economic crisis deepens, they will have to turn to the IMF and western creditors for assistance. The limits of their influence will again be demonstrated.

The economic crisis isn’t the only structural challenge facing Sudan’s democrats. The FFC needs also to deal with the challenge of establishing a common agenda with the armed groups, mostly representing constituencies in Darfur and the “two areas” of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. They will have to work out how to handle the country’s bloated and fragmented security sector. The Arab troika has no agenda at all for these fundamental challenges either.

16 lives lost to stray bullets in Sudan

At least 16 people were killed and 20 others wounded by stray bullets at protests and sit-ins on Thursday and Friday, a Sudanese police spokesman said in a statement on Saturday as the nation waited to hear from its newly appointed leader.

Government buildings and private property were also attacked, spokesman Hashem Ali added.

The transitional military council said on Saturday the head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Salah Abdallah Gosh, has resigned from his post.

“The chief of the transitional military council, Abdel Fattah Burhan, has accepted the resignation of … the chief of NISS,” the council said.

Gosh had overseen a sweeping crackdown led by NISS agents against protesters taking part in four months of mass demonstrations.

The spy chief’s resignation comes less than 24 hours after the Sudanese military replaced the country’s transitional leader who had been in power only one day.

Thousands of jubilant protesters celebrated in the streets of Khartoum on Friday, after Defence Minister General Awad Ibn Auf, announced he was stepping down as head of the ruling military council.

He had been named the de-facto leader after President Omar al-Bashir was forced out of office on Thursday after 30 years of rule.

Ibn Auf said he would be replaced by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, general inspector of the armed forces, as head of the transitional council, which will rule the country for two years until elections.

“This is for the benefit of our nation … This country has great people and a great army,” Ibn Auf said in a brief TV statement, adding that he hoped the civilians and the military would work together.

 

Woman gets a 5-year sentence for killing rapist husband

A teenager in Sudan who was given the death penalty for killing her husband, who she says raped her, has had the sentence reduced to five years on appeal, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

The court in Khartoum commuted Noura Hussein’s death penalty to five years as well as ordered her to pay blood money to the husband’s family, defense lawyer Abdullah Ibrahim told dpa.

According to human rights group Amnesty International, Hussein was forced against her will into marriage at the age of 16.

After the marriage, she was raped by her husband while three of his male relatives held her down. When he tried to rape her again, Hussein allegedly stabbed him in self-defense.

Now 19, she was sentenced to death by a court earlier this year in predominantly Muslim Sudan, where marital rape is not a crime.

“While the quashing of this death sentence is hugely welcome news, it must now lead to a legal review to ensure that Noura Hussein is the last person to go through this ordeal,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director in a statement.

“Noura Hussein was the victim of a brutal attack by her husband and five years’ imprisonment for acting in self-defense is a disproportionate punishment.”

There had been huge international pressure on Sudan to throw out Hussein’s sentence, with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.N. Women and UNFPA all voicing their concern.

Celebrities such as British supermodel Naomi Campbell also got behind the cause under the hashtag #JusticeForNoura.

“The appeals court has cancelled her execution and sentenced her to five years in jail,” the lawyer told AFP news agency. “The jail term is effective from the time she was arrested.”

Hussein has been held in a women’s prison since May 2017.

“Like Noura, who was only a child when she got married, there are many child marriages and forced marriages in Sudan. The law doesn’t see that as illegal and neither does it consider marital rape so,” Amal Habani, a Sudanese journalist and women’s rights activist, told Al Jazeera last month.

“Noura faced a lot of violence from her family to marry a man she rejected from the start. Then, she was beaten into submission by his family to consummate the marriage.

“Noura was a victim before she became a criminal. She shouldn’t have been handed down a death penalty.”

Swimming Pool Death: A Russian Ambassador dies under questionable circumstances

Russia’s ambassador to Sudan, Mirgayas Shirinskiy, was found dead in his swimming pool Wednesday — the fourth Russian envoy to die in just eight months.

Police found him at his home in home in the country’s capital, Khartoum, officials said.

Doctors came immediately, but were not able to save him, according to Russian state media.

Shirinskiy, 62, had high blood pressure, and authorities believe he died of natural causes, police told Reuters.

Three other Russian emissaries have died in since December.

Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov was assassinated in December, during a speech at an art gallery, by a gun-wielding former Turkish cop shouting “Allahu Akbar!” and “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!”

Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin died at 68 from an illness in January, according to the Hindustan Times.

And Vitaly Churkin, ambassador to the UN, died of heart failure in his New York office the day before his 65th birthday in February.