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Omar al-Bashir: Biography, Facts, Trial of Former Sudan President

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir (or Umar Hassan Ahmad el-Bashir) became president of Sudan in 1993 but first gained military power in 1989 during an Islamist-backed coup. He was born in the northern Sudan village of Hosh Bonnaga – January 1, 1944.

Bashir’s military training began in 1960 when at the age of sixteen he joined the Sudanese army. Six years later he graduated from the Sudan Military Academy located near Khartoum. Bashir was sent for duty in the Egyptian army during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. After the war he steadily rose to prominence. From 1989 to 1993 he served as the Sudanese minister of defense.

Head of the Revolutionary Council

Bashir, frustrated with the country’s leadership, led a successful coup in 1989. He became chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation, which ruled the country. Bashir dissolved the parliament, banned political parties, and strictly controlled the press. He was supported by Hasan al-Turabi, a Muslim extremist and leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF). Together they began to Islamize the country, and in March 1991 Islamic law (Sharīʿah) was introduced. This move further emphasized the division between the north and the mainly animist and Christian south.

President of Sudan

In October 1993 the Revolutionary Council was disbanded, and Bashir was appointed president of Sudan; he retained military rule, however. He was confirmed as president by an election held in 1996. Bashir’s ally Turabi was unanimously elected president of the National Assembly. On June 30, 1998, Bashir signed a new constitution, which lifted the ban on political parties. In December of that year, however, he used military force to oust Turabi, who, he believed, was plotting against him. On March 12, 2000, Bashir declared a three-month state of emergency, which, by stages, he thereafter extended indefinitely. After the December 2000 elections in which he was once again confirmed as president, he dismissed the cabinet.

Peace efforts with the south

Throughout this period, war with the SPLA continued, displacing millions of southerners. From time to time Bashir made tentative cease-fire agreements with fringe elements of the rebel force, but, when oil production started on a large scale in the border area between north and south in 1998, the dispute grew fiercer. Under international pressure, Bashir agreed in 2005 to form a peace pact with the SPLA.

Conflict in Darfur and ICC charges

Meanwhile, in August 2003, rebel black African groups in Darfur had launched an attack on Bashir’s government, claiming unfair treatment. To combat the Darfur uprising, the president enlisted the aid of the Arab militia known as Janjaweed, whose brutal methods terrorized the civilians in the region, prevented international aid organizations from delivering much-needed food and medical supplies, and displaced more than two million people, earning harsh criticism from international commentators. As the Darfur conflict raged on, Bashir reluctantly accepted the arrival of a very small African Union (AU) peacekeeping force but resisted attempts by the United Nations (UN) to send a much larger international force. The AU peacekeeping mission was eventually replaced by a joint UN-AU mission that began deployment in 2008.

On July 14, 2008, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) called for an arrest warrant to be issued against Bashir. He was cited for crimes committed against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur. The Sudanese government, which was not a party to the treaty creating the ICC, denied the charges and proclaimed Bashir’s innocence. On March 4, 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir—the first time that the ICC sought the arrest of a sitting head of state—charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity but not with genocide; in July 2010 the ICC issued a second arrest warrant, this time charging Bashir with genocide.

Bashir’s ICC arrest warrants made headlines again in December 2014, when the ICC prosecutor announced that she was suspending the investigation of his case because of a lack of action by the United Nations Security Council in compelling Bashir to appear in court.

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Military retirement, continued rule, and secession

Meanwhile, in January 2010 Bashir retired from his post as commander of the armed forces, a position that he had held since the 1989 coup. He did so to comply with legal requirements regarding candidate eligibility so that he would be able to accept the nomination of the National Congress Party (NCP; successor party of the NIF) and stand in the upcoming (April 2010) presidential election, part of the country’s first multiparty elections in more than 20 years. Bashir was reelected in April with about 68 percent of the vote. However, the poll was clouded by the withdrawal of his two main opposition candidates prior to the contest, who alleged that there were already indications of fraudulent practices, and by the declaration by some international observers that the elections fell short of international standards.

Under the terms of the 2005 agreement with the southern rebels, a referendum for southern Sudanese citizens was held in January 2011 to determine whether the south would remain part of Sudan or secede. The results overwhelmingly indicated a preference to secede, which occurred on July 9, 2011. The economic fallout from the loss of the south’s oil fields and the ongoing conflict with Sudan’s new neighbour, South Sudan, as well as with rebel groups within Sudan, dominated Bashir’s presidency. Opposition groups and the general public increasingly expressed their dissatisfaction with the NCP’s inability to improve economic conditions, find a peaceful solution to end the rebel activity, or institute constitutional reforms. Bashir’s regime used harsh tactics in an attempt to quell public displays of dissent and to curb the media.

As the 2015 elections approached, Bashir once again was the NCP’s presidential candidate. In spite of a boycott of the elections by much of the opposition, there were still more than a dozen presidential candidates. Bashir, however, easily won reelection in the April 13–16 polls, with the official results showing that he received about 94 percent of the vote. In addition to the boycott by the opposition, the elections were also marred by low voter turnout—despite officials extending voting by an extra day—and international criticism of Sudan for not providing a conducive environment for credible elections.

Challenge to his rule

Bashir faced an unprecedented level of popular unrest that began in December 2018 and continued into the following year. What began as small spontaneous protests over frustrations with the country’s struggling economy and its impact on Sudanese living conditions soon transformed into larger-scale organized anti-government marches and demonstrations, in which many protestors and opposition leaders called for Bashir to step down. He refused, saying that he would leave only if he were voted out of office.

In February 2019, in the face of continued protests, Bashir took several actions, including declaring a state of emergency, dissolving the central and state governments, appointing a new prime minister, and banning unauthorized demonstrations. This did little to deter the organized protests, however. In March he resigned his position as head of the NCP and promised to hold a dialogue with the opposition and enact reforms. Bashir still would not step down, though, and demonstrations continued.

The largest protest of the movement to date occurred on April 6, 2019, as demonstrators marched to the military headquarters in Khartoum, the capital, and remained there for days. Harsh attempts by security forces to break up the crowds were met with resistance from some segments of the military, which moved to protect the demonstrators; their actions indicated that Bashir could no longer assume that he had the unwavering support of the country’s various security and military forces. On April 11, 2019, Bashir was overthrown in a military coup and placed under arrest.

Prosecution

Within a week, Bashir was moved to the Kober prison, in Khartoum. Later that month, large sums of money were discovered in his home, which led to formal charges being brought against him for having committed corruption-related acts. He was convicted in December 2019 and sentenced to two years in a reform facility, rather than a prison, as Sudanese law did not permit individuals older than 70 years to serve time in prison. Meanwhile, in May he was charged with incitement and involvement in the killing of demonstrators earlier in the year during the protests against his rule. Bashir also faced charges for his role in the 1989 coup that brought him to power; that trial began in July 2020.

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Written by PH

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