Justice for Darfur, healing for Sudan

Sudan’s move to submit an ousted dictator to international justice would also help reconcile a nation torn by mass atrocities.

Sudan's former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir sits inside a cage at a Kartoum courthouse where he faced corruption charges last September.

Once in the global spotlight for mass atrocities, Sudan signaled this week that it would turn over its ousted dictator, Omar al-Bashir, to the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed during his 30-year reign. A decade ago, Mr. Bashir was the first sitting president indicted by the ICC. He was also the first leader charged with genocide. If tried and convicted, his case would help affirm the court’s role as a global dispenser of universal justice for the worst of crimes. It would send a message to dictators everywhere.

Yet while that significance is worth pointing out, Sudan itself has another reason to let an international court in The Hague put Mr. Bashir on the docket – one that points to a core reason for justice.

Yes, a fledgling new government in Africa’s third-largest country admits that its own courts might not be ready to try the former leader fairly. Many judges were appointed by Mr. Bashir. And the still-powerful military may not want a domestic airing of its role in war crimes. The military has a hand in the 11-member transitional council trying to kick-start democracy, less than a year after a peaceful uprising led to Mr. Bashir’s ouster.

More importantly, the transitional council is in a race to sign peace pacts with rebel movements long suppressed by Mr. Bashir, especially in Darfur. That western region suffered the most under his rule following a 2003 insurgency. More than 300,000 people were killed and some 2.5 million Darfurians were forced to flee. Several ethnic groups were targeted for elimination.

For all the innocent people in Darfur and other regions, said council member Mohamed Hassan al-Taishi, “we cannot achieve justice and heal wounds” unless those indicted by the ICC appear before the court. In other words, an international trial of Mr. Bashir would help speed up the process of reconciliation among Sudan’s 40 million people.

One of the council’s five “pillars” for achieving peace in Sudan is an accountability for past human rights abuses. Once Mr. Bashir is before the ICC, a great measure of justice is assured. And along with it, national healing might be better assured.

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