Sudan’s prosecuting authority has charged ousted president Omar al-Bashir for his role in protestors’ deaths during last month’s uprising, the state news agency reported. The former president ruled Sudan for three decades until unprecedented mass protests led to his arrest by military officials. Prosecutors are also investigating a case of money laundering against al-Bashir after authorities found large amounts of cash in various currencies stashed in his home.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has also issued a warrant for al-Bashir over allegations of war crimes during the Darfur conflict between 2003 and 2006. Sudanese protesters poured into the main streets of Khartoum on Monday to intensify pressure on the transitional military council to set up a civilian government.
Police and soldiers responded by using tear gas and batons on hundreds of demonstrators who had set on fire tyres in Khartoum’s northern Bahri neighbourhood, according to a dpa reporter on the scene.
The International Criminal Court’s latest finding that Jordan was at fault in failing to arrest former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he visited Amman in 2017 even as it side-stepped action against the kingdom has sparked fresh concerns over the court’s ability to tame the world’s powerful political actors and rogue regimes.
The ICC Appeals Chamber’s decision was the latest in a series that has raised eyebrows and fuelled fears that the court may be caving in to pressure from powerful state actors who have waged prolonged smear campaigns against it or questioned its mandate to tackle international crimes.
Kenya and South Africa top the list of state actors that have vigorously mobilised against the ICC, accusing it of unfairly targeting Africa with racial undertones.
Three years ago, South Africa, then under President Jacob Zuma, reacted with an abrasive campaign to leave the ICC when asked about its decision to host al-Bashir adding impetus to Kenya’s own drive against the court that began in earnest in 2013.
Warrant of arrest
Kenya’s beef with the ICC was centred on its trial of President Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto for crimes against humanity.
Day after day Sudanese are taking to the streets to protest against the rule of Omar al-Bashir. The president, who himself seized power in 1989 when he led a coup, is facing the most serious challenge in his three decades in power. Fury at sharp rises in the cost of bread and fuel, and allegations of corruption, have fuelled the protests.
Thus far the president has managed to resist the anger of his people. But Sudanese have a long history of overthrowing unpopular regimes. Twice before – in 1964 and then again in 1985 – revolts led to changes of government. On each occasion the armed forces abandoned the regime and sided with the people. This has not occurred during the current protests for good reasons, as university lecturer and author of Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan Willow Berridge points out:
Al-Bashir’s regime clearly learnt from the mistakes of its predecessors. It has created a much stronger National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) as well as a host of other parallel security organisations and armed militias that it uses to police Khartoum instead of the regular army. This set up, combined with various commanders’ mutual fears of being held to account for war crimes if the regime falls, means an army intervention will not occur easily as in 1964 or 1985. This is one reason the current uprising has already lasted longer than its precedents.
But the regime’s survival cannot simply be seen as a domestic issue. He has strong international allies.
The West once reviled Omar al-Bashir as an indicted war criminal. However, more recently they have begun to view him as a source of stability and intelligence in a troubled region. The president also has the backing – both political and financial – of key Arab allies.
Sudanese have traditionally been said to look North to Cairo for support. This crisis is no exception. In December Egypt’s foreign minister and intelligence chief visited Khartoum, pledging their support for Al-Bashir.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who flew to Sudan with intelligence chief General Abbas Kamel, confidently stated:
Egypt is confident that Sudan will overcome the present situation.
This was followed earlier this month during a reciprocal trip to Cairo by the Sudanese president at which President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi commented:
Egypt fully supports the security and stability of Sudan, which is integral to Egypt’s national security.
But political support alone wouldn’t be enough to keep the Sudanese regime in power. There is also financial backing from across the Red Sea.
In return for Sudan entering the Yemeni war Khartoum is reported to have received investments worth US$2.2 billion. More than 10,000 Sudanese troops are fighting on the Yemeni frontline.
Some are said to be child soldiers who were recruited by the Saudis, with offers of US$10,000 for each recruit.
The rehabilitation of al-Bashir in the US goes back to President Barack Obama’s era. As one of the last acts of his office, he lifted a range of US sanctions against the Sudanese regime. The CIA’s large office in Khartoum was cited as one of the key reasons for his policy shift.
Nor is Washington alone in this view. As Europe battles to restrict the number of Africans crossing the Mediterranean it has seen the Sudanese government as an ally.
The “Khartoum Process”, signed in the Sudanese capital, is critical to this relationship. In November 2015 European leaders met their African counterparts in the Maltese capital, Valletta, to try to put flesh on the bones of this agreement. The aim was made clear in the accompanying EU press release which concluded that;
The number of migrants arriving to the European Union is unprecedented, and this increased flow is likely to continue. The EU, together with the member states, is taking a wide range of measures to address the challenges, and to establish an effective, humanitarian and safe European migration policy.
The summit led to the drafting of an Action Plan which has guided the EU’s policy objectives on migration and mobility ever since.
The plan detailed how European institutions would cooperate with their African partners to fight irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.
Europe promised to offer training to “law enforcement and judicial authorities” in new methods of investigation and assisting in setting up specialised anti-trafficking and smuggling police units.
These commitments were an explicit pledge to support and strengthen elements of the Sudanese state. A Regional Operational Centre (ROCK) has been established in Khartoum whose chief aim it to halt people smuggling and refugee flows by allowing European officials to work directly with their Sudanese opposite numbers. The counter-trafficking coordination centre in Khartoum — staffed jointly by police officers from Sudan and several European countries, including Britain, France and Italy — will partly rely on information sourced by the Sudanese national intelligence service.
Finally there is some evidence of Russian involvement in the Sudanese crisis. Russian troops, working for a private contractor, are reported to have been seen on the streets of Khartoum, suppressing the uprising.
Given the range of support for al-Bashir it isn’t surprising that he’s managed to resist popular pressure to step down. Much depends on how long demonstrations can be maintained, and how much force the regime is prepared to deploy to crush its opponents.
KHARTOUM, Sudan — The civil war in Darfur robbed Hager Shomo Ahmed of almost any hope. Raiders had stolen his family’s cattle, and a dozen years of bloodshed had left his parents destitute. Then, around the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia offered a lifeline:
The kingdom would pay as much as $10,000 if Hager joined its forces fighting 1,200 miles away in Yemen. Hager, 14 at the time, could not find Yemen on a map, and his mother was appalled. He had survived one horrific civil war — how could his parents toss him into another? But the family overruled her.
“Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money,” Hager said in an interview last week in the capital, Khartoum, a few days after his 16th birthday.
The United Nations has called the war in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. An intermittent blockade by the Saudis and their partners in the United Arab Emirates has pushed as many as 12 million people to the brink of starvation, killing some 85,000 children, according to aid groups.
Led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudis say they are battling to rescue Yemen from a hostile faction backed by Iran. But to do it, the Saudis have used their vast oil wealth to outsource the war, mainly by hiring what Sudanese soldiers say are tens of thousands of desperate survivors of the conflict in Darfur to fight, many of them children.
At any time for nearly four years as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen have been fighting in Yemen in tandem with the local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to several Sudanese fighters who have returned and Sudanese lawmakers who are attempting to track it. Hundreds, at least, have died there. Almost all the Sudanese fighters appear to come from the battle-scarred and impoverished region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during a dozen years of conflict over diminishing arable land and other scarce resources.
Most belong to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a tribal militia previously known as the Janjaweed. They were blamed for the systematic rape of women and girls, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes during Darfur’s conflict, and veterans involved in those horrors are now leading their deployment to Yemen — albeit in a more formal and structured campaign.
Some families are so eager for the money that they bribe militia officers to let their sons go fight. Many are ages 14 to 17. In interviews, five fighters who have returned from Yemen and another about to depart said that children made up at least 20 percent of their units. Two said children were more than 40 percent.
To keep a safe distance from the battle lines, their Saudi or Emirati overseers commanded the Sudanese fighters almost exclusively by remote control, directing them to attack or retreat through radio headsets and GPS systems provided to the Sudanese officers in charge of each unit, the fighters all said.
“The Saudis told us what to do through the telephones and devices,” said Mohamed Suleiman al-Fadil, a 28-year-old member of the Bani Hussein tribe who returned from Yemen at the end of last year. “They never fought with us.”
“The Saudis would give us a phone call and then pull back,” agreed Ahmed, 25, a member of the Awlad Zeid tribe who fought near Hudaydah this year and who did not want his full name published for fear of government retaliation. “They treat the Sudanese like their firewood.”
A few thousand Emiratis are based around the port of Aden. But the rest of the coalition the Saudis and Emiratis have assembled is united mainly by dependence on their financial aid. The Pakistani military, despite a parliamentary vote blocking its participation, has quietly dispatched 1,000 soldiers to bolster Saudi forces inside the kingdom. Jordan has deployed jets and military advisers. Both governments rely heavily on aid from the Gulf monarchies. (A report by a United Nations panel suggested Eritrea may have sent about 400 troops as well.) But in Sudan, which has played a far larger role, the Saudi money appears to flow directly to the fighters — or mercenaries, as critics call them. It benefits the economy only indirectly.
“People are desperate. They are fighting in Yemen because they know that in Sudan they don’t have a future,” said Hafiz Ismail Mohamed, a former banker, economic consultant and critic of the government. “We are exporting soldiers to fight like they are a commodity we are exchanging for foreign currency.” A spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition said in a statement that it was fighting to restore the internationally recognized government of Yemen and that coalition forces upheld all international humanitarian and human rights laws, including “abstaining from child recruitment.”
“The allegations that there are children among the ranks of the Sudanese forces are fictitious and unfounded,” the spokesman, Turki al-Malki, said in the statement. Saudi officials said their soldiers have also died in Yemen, but declined to disclose how many. The Sudanese ground troops unquestionably have made it easier for the Saudis and Emiratis to extend the war.
The Sudanese have insulated the Saudis and Emiratis from the casualties that might test the patience of families at home. The Sudanese are sometimes deployed to defend the flanks of the Yemeni militiamen who spearhead attacks. But the Sudanese fighters insist they are also the main barrier against the Saudis’ Yemeni foes, the Houthis. “Without us, the Houthis would take all of Saudi Arabia, including Mecca,” Mr. Fadil said. Ambassador Babikir Elsiddig Elamin, a spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, declined to comment on troop levels, casualties or paychecks in Yemen. He said that Sudan was fighting “in the interest of regional peace and stability.” “Other than that,” he added, “we don’t have any national interest in Yemen.”
Sudan’s defense minister threatened last May to withdraw from the conflict, pointedly announcing that Khartoum was “reassessing” participation in light of Sudan’s “stability and interests.” Diplomats called the statement a veiled demand that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provide more financial assistance. They did not, and the Sudanese economy teetered. Khartoum backed down. The flow of fighters continued. But President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has gained valuable allies, easing his international isolation after years as a virtual pariah.
The United States has designated Mr. Bashir’s government a state sponsor of terrorism for more than two decades. The International Criminal Court has issued warrants for his arrest, charging him with directing the Darfur war crimes. Until recently, the Saudis and Emirates kept their distance, suspicious of Mr. Bashir’s roots in political Islam and relations with Iran and Qatar, both Saudi rivals.
The war in Yemen, however, has enabled Mr. Bashir to win at least diplomatic support from its Gulf leaders, and he has thanked the Saudis and Emiratis for pressing Washington to upgrade relations. The Saudi payments to the soldiers have become increasingly significant to Sudan, where inflation has hit 70 percent and even in the capital residents line up for bread, fuel and bank withdrawals. At least nine people have been killed this month by security forces. Darfur has furnished mercenaries to other conflicts as well.
Rebel groups who fought the Janjaweed have turned up fighting in Libya for the anti-Islamist Gen. Khalifa Hifter, according to the findings of a United Nations panel and other reports. But far more have fought in Yemen.
The five fighters who had returned from Yemen and two brothers of fighters who died there all gave similar accounts. Sudanese jets departed Khartoum or Nyala, Darfur, carrying 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers at a time to Saudi Arabia.
They were delivered to camps inside the kingdom, where some said they saw as many as 8,000 Sudanese gathered.
The Saudis issued them uniforms and weapons, which the Sudanese fighters believed were American made. Then Saudi officers provided two to four weeks of training, mainly in assembling and cleaning their guns.
Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military campaign in Yemen has been a source of humiliation. In an effort to prevail against the Houthi rebels, Riyadh has reached out to Sudan and other African nations for on-the-ground support. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia’s ability to secure a commitment from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) must be analyzed within the context of Sudan’s domestic problems, which have left the country on the verge of total economic collapse.
Since 1997, US-imposed sanctions on Sudan’s central bank have weakened the country’s access to global financial markets and hard currency.