e has faced multiple arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions in Darfur, including “genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Though the warrants were filed in 2009 and 2010, respectively, he was never arrested by the any of the countries which signed onto the Rome Statute. The treaty requires participating countries to arrest international fugitives who cross their borders, but, in spite of this, long-term Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir continued to visit several countries across Africa, evading arrest for war crimes in the Darfur region for over a decade.
Now, al-Bashir is under arrest in his own country. His removal from power came after several months of protesting, which originally started over the dilapidated state of Sudan’s economy in December 2018 and later focused on removing al-Bashir from power. In early April 2019, thousands camped outside of Sudan’s military headquarters, near the presidential compound, in peaceful protest. By April 11, 2019, al-Bashir had been ousted.
In Sudan, al-Bashir could face trial as early as next week, though policy experts and activists in Sudan have argued that the rush to trial was designed to distract the international community from the violence that has broken out in the country in the wake of al-Bashir’s removal. On June 3, soldiers and paramilitary groups in Sudan opened fire on a group of protesters who had been participating in a pro-democracy sit-in in the capital city of Khartoum, leaving at least 118 dead. Violence escalated as soldiers raped women, burned tents, and dumped the bodies of victims into the River Nile.
And though al-Bashir has been ousted, his violent legacy looms over the current conflict in Sudan. The paramilitary group that is seen as responsible for much of the recent violence in Sudan is known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). In Sudan’s capital city, the RSF grew out of the military forces that made up the Janjaweed, the paramilitary group that terrorized the Darfur region in Sudan, initiating genocide in the early 2000s. The new Sudanese crisis emerges from the ashes of Darfur, asking repentance from the same perpetrators and claiming new victims in its wake.
Much like current conflict in Sudan, violence in Darfur began with action against the al-Bashir regime. In April 2003, rebels in Darfur raided Sudan’s main air base. They were angry with the Sudanese government for what they perceived as disregard towards the state’s non-Arab population. al-Bashir’s regime turned to the Janjaweed, an Arab militia group that had formed in the 1980s to protect the Darfur region from a variety of vulnerabilities. In the wake of the Darfuri rebellion, al-Bashir’s regime intensified recruitment efforts for the Janjaweed militia, enlisting criminals and prisoners to quash the uprisings in the region. al-Bashir’s government instructed the Janjaweed to go after the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa villages. Ultimately, the militia killed hundreds of thousands in what became known to the international community as a genocide of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa people.
Years later, the Janjaweed’s reign of terror has extended beyond the Darfur region. In 2013, the al-Bashir regime formed the RSF from the remnants of the Janjaweed militias to combat armed rebel groups in Sudan. In 2014, Sudan recognized the RSF as a regular military force in its constitution. True to its Janjaweed roots, the RSF contributed to the crisis in Darfur; the force has been found guilty of committing various human rights abuses in Darfur in 2014 and 2015, including looting homes and beating, raping, and killing civilians.
Currently, the RSF is led by a military commander, General Hamdan, more commonly known as Hemeti. Hemeti had served as a leader in the Janjaweed forces during the early days of the Darfur conflict, and became the leader of the RSF in 2013. That same year, the RSF repressed protestors at demonstrations in Khartoum, killing at least 200. And history repeated itself during the most recent attacks in Sudan’s capital city, which were of course also carried out by the paramilitary force.
Now, Hemeti is considered to be the de facto leader of Sudan, and has his sights set on becoming the country’s next president. Like al-Bashir, Hemeti was never held accountable for his actions in Darfur. Failure to arrest prominent war criminals contributes to a growing scheme of international inaction in Darfur. U.S. diplomats, for example, chose Southern Sudanese independence in an implicit trade-off between the creation of South Sudan or the achievement of justice for the Darfur region. South Sudan became the world’s youngest country in 2011. The conflict in Darfur remains unresolved. And the U.S. is not alone is its complacency. In 2016, the EU began to work with the Sudanese government and Hemeti’s RSF to help curtail migration in the region, a project they began with full knowledge of Hemeti’s former war crimes in Darfur. Writing for American political magazine The New Republic, journalist Justin Lynch said it best. Though military leaders like Hemeti are directly responsible for current Sudanese violence, international inaction in the wake of Darfur set the stage for the attacks in Khartoum.
As the RSF continues to bring “Darfur to Khartoum,” the international community still has a chance to take action. Op-eds emerging from both the U.S. and the U.K. have argued that countries should take efforts to halt illicit financial activity with Sudan and create financial consequences for regime leaders in the country. Additional recommendations have advised countries to place sanctions on human rights offenders in Sudan and have called for public statements condemning the use of violence in the country to quell peaceful protests. Ultimately, the world’s focus on Sudan in the aftermath of its June bloodbath mustn’t be broken. Unwavering international attention is needed in Khartoum if the international community wants to halt another Darfur.