The war in Darfur is the conflict the world seems to have forgotten, but it hasn’t gone away.
And neither has the leader of Sudan, President Omar Hassan al–Bashir, the man the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for back in 2009 for alleged war crimes in the region. He also was the first person to be charged by the ICC for the crime of genocide.
Bashir, who took power in 1989, is leading a nation that has been grappling with ethnic and religious conflict for more than 50 years – not just in the Darfur region but also in the south, which eventually led to the division of the country and the establishment of South Sudan.
A provisional peace agreement was signed with the non-Arab rebels in Darfur in 2006, and there are talks going on between them and the government to move towards a final deal.
But there are still allegations of serious ongoing violence. Recent attacks, including one in September, left hundreds of civilians dead – many of them children – in the Jebel Marra region in central Darfur. This time, the seriousness of the attacks was compounded by allegations that the government went further than any previous time by employing chemical weapons.
We discuss these allegations, the prospects for real peace and the role of Sudan’s President Bashir as the country’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour talks to Al Jazeera.
Critics say the ongoing national dialogue announced by Bashir is being controlled by the government and that the security service is keeping participants in check. Ghandour disputes this, saying “it has been a free and fair interactive dialogue”.
“In that dialogue, a number of political parties, rebel groups or ex-rebel groups who participated are many, and that has been witnessed by many visitors to Sudan,” he says, adding that political activists have not faced any crackdown or been jailed solely for their political activity.
But human rights organisations maintain that the country has an appalling human rights record.
Asked about the allegations of ongoing violence in Darfur and Bashir’s indictment for war crimes and genocide by the ICC, Ghandour says: “We know ICC is a political organ of the EU. Everybody knows that this is a court that has been in fact formed and built to indict Africans, this is why you’ll find all those leaders who have been accused or indicted are African leaders.”
We discuss how Bashir is now travelling more widely and whether or not he fears being arrested on an ICC warrant.
Ghandour says Bashir will never appear in court. “Because we are not party to the Rome treaty,” he says.
“Not a single Sudanese will go to the ICC court.”
The ICC has said it’s suspending its Darfur work due to frustrations with investigations. We ask Ghandour what he makes of the ICC’s decision:
“It tells me that now they are quite sure that the indictment was not a correct one,” he says.
Ghandour also speaks about the conflict in Sudan’s “Two Areas”, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and what the government plans to do about continuing talks as a four-month ceasefire comes to an end. He also discusses the bloodshed in South Sudan and whether the splitting off from Sudan was a mistake.
“We are very much worried because we believe that there is no peace in Sudan without peace in South Sudan and vice versa,” he says.
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