udan's deposed military ruler Omar Al Bashir looks on from a defendant's cage during the opening of his corruption trial in Khartoum in a file photo.. Image Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States has praised Sudan’s decision to hand over ex-dictator Omar Al Bashir to the International Criminal Court, saying the move would be a “major step” in the country’s democratic transition.

“We do welcome the reconfirmation by the (cabinet) of its intention to hand over former president Bashir and other former officials wanted by the ICC for crimes in Darfur,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“We urge Sudan to continue to cooperate with the ICC by handing over those subject to arrest warrants and by cooperating on the provision of the request of evidence.”

“Doing so would be a major step for Sudan in the fight against decades of impunity.”

The United States for years pressued nations not to welcome Al Bashir due to the 2009 arrest warrant over the brutal conflict in Darfur, which Washington had described as genocide.

After ruling with an iron fist for three decades, Al Bashir was deposed in 2019 amid youth-driven protests.

Bashir, 77, has been wanted by The Hague-based ICC for more than a decade over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Sudanese region.

The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur conflict, which erupted in the vast western region in 2003.

The “cabinet decided to hand over wanted officials to the ICC,” Foreign Minister Mariam Al Mahdi was quoted as saying by state news agency SUNA, without giving a time frame.

The cabinet’s decision to hand him over came during a visit by ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan, but it still needs the approval of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, comprised of military and civilian figures.

On Wednesday, Khan met the sovereign council’s leader, General Abdul Fattah Al Burhan, and Mohammad Hamdan Daglo, its deputy chair. Daglo said Sudan “is prepared to cooperate with the ICC”, SUNA reported.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who also met Khan, said Wednesday that “Sudan’s committment to seek justice is not only to abide by its international commitments, but it comes out of a response to the people’s demands”.

‘Special Court’?

It remains unclear if Al Bashir would be extradited to face trial in The Hague, or could remain in Sudan.

Volker Perthes, UN Special Representative to Sudan, said that the ICC “can help” with the “establishment of (a) Special Court for Darfur”, without giving further details.

The transitional authorities have previously said they would hand Al Bashir over, but one stumbling block was that Sudan was not party to the court’s founding Rome Statute.

But last week Sudan’s cabinet voted to ratify the Rome Statute, a crucial move seen as one step towards Bashir potentially facing trial.

ICC spokesperson Fadi Al Abdullah did not comment on the announcement, saying Khan was “in Khartoum to discuss cooperation matters”, but that the prosecutor would hold a press conference on Thursday afternoon.