Sudan: How Lawyers Are Delaying Bashir's Coup Trial

Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, former president of Sudan (file photo).

Trial prosecutors in Sudan have been facing technical hitches in the case against ousted president Omar al-Bashir and others accused of masterminding a 1989 coup that brought him to power.

This past week, a defence team representing Mr Bashir and a group of former senior officials who served in his government walked out of a trial session to protest what they called an unfair run of the case.

The case was supposed to begin in July, but defence lawyers protested the venue of the trial in Khartoum three times, claiming that it was a health hazard due to the pandemic. The venue was moved to the new headquarters of the Police Officers Training Institute for Forensics -- still in Khartoum.

Last week, the defence lawyers claimed the country's Attorney General addressed the court on charges facing the accused even though he created the accusations and investigations team that led to the creation of the special tribunal.

The lawyers claimed the presiding judge refused to hear their arguments relating to the presentation on the accused by the Attorney General, and they walked out before he finished his speech.

Mr Bashir's lead lawyer Mohamed Al-Hassan Al-Amin said the Attorney General had turned the prosecution into defence.

"There is a petition in which these defendants complained, and we presented a copy to the judge in the previous session. It is the complainant who formed the investigation team that led to the charges against these accused. His efforts led to the creation of this special court," Mr Al-Amin said.

The presiding judge said that they decided to hear the charges from the Attorney General, and later hear the defence team's arguments. If legally acceptable, the court would decide to exclude the sermon. The lawyers rejected the proposal and left the court.

Procrastination

Legal experts say the procrastination by the defence will not delay the progress of the case.

"Nothing can disrupt the progress of the trial as long as the case reached the court. The defence teams are stalling so that the trial does not proceed. The requests are not based on anything serious, and therefore the trial will continue whether or not the lawyers come. They as defendants have the right to bring other lawyers," Moez Hadhra, a legal expert in Khartoum, told The EastAfrican.

Mujahid Abdel Gader Awad, a Sudanese scholar of international law, said Sudan must appear to be fair in the trial, to convince the world that its internal justice system is just to litigants.

The local trial could help the country's fight against impunity more than the International Criminal Court, which has indicted Mr Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

"The main factor in this is the harshness of the penalties of domestic laws compared with those stipulated by international law, whose articles do not contain the death penalty, for example," Mr Mujahid told The EastAfrican.

"In addition, they cannot return to their country to face trial for other cases once their trial at the ICC starts. In fact, this may be considered impunity and for that international justice may not be helpful to the victims."

"I think the trial of al-Bashir and his aides should proceed here on all criminal cases regardless of their technical classification between the internal and the international.

Mr Bashir was indicted by the ICC for the killing, rape, genocide, and pillage against civilians in Darfur, south-west of Sudan. He has never faced trial at the ICC, largely because the African Union and the Arab League opposed his trial while he was still in power.

The Transitional Government has not declared whether it will hand him over to the ICC, but he was sentenced to jail last year, for two years, for corruption. Sudan is not a member of the ICC.

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