Arab dictators take note
Will ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir be the first Arab leader to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC)? Should the trial take place, it will be a lesson to many senior figures in Arab countries who are now worried about their own heads, fearing that the day will come when they too will be brought before this very court. This trial will not only bring justice for the victims of al-Bashir’s rule; it will end the years of immunity from prosecution. Immunity, from which many criminals in the region have benefitted in the past, and from which others in power today still benefit.
In a surprising decision, the Sudanese transitional government announced its intention to hand over the deposed president and all those wanted men around him to the ICC on charges of war crimes. This decision was not opposed, publicly at least, by the military leaders in the sovereign council that is overseeing the transition in Sudan.
The news that a trial against al-Bashir is on the horizon is in itself a step of great significance for the Sudanese people and for all those who lived through the horrors of the devastating wars to which al-Bashir subjected the Sudanese people over three decades.
Reactions from the Arab world
This news would simply not have been believable until very recently, not least when seen against the background of the exaggerated reactions which followed the original issue of the arrest warrant for al-Bashir back in 2009. The Sudanese government of the day described the decision as a kind of "neo-colonialism", and al-Bashir himself attacked it with mocking statements and theatrical gestures, waving his stick about and threatening the judges of the ICC.
Indeed, even at an official level across the Arab world, fierce responses were issued against the decision, which Arab foreign ministers considered political rather than legal. The Council of the Arab League criticised the ICC for its "double standards", whilst the Union of Arab Parliaments went so far as to say that the decision "dishonoured" the history of international justice.
As a result, al-Bashir remained a welcome guest in many Arab countries. On arriving in capitals across the region, al-Bashir would be given the red carpet treatment, in a provocative display towards the ICC and those suffering under his rule.
Under the iron fist of the military
Attitudes changed in the wake of the popular revolution which overthrew al-Bashir. After that, the debate inside Sudan moved from challenging the legality of the ICC’s decision to the political implications of the decision to accept the new situation amid a fragile transitional period.