Al-Bashir Is on Trial in Sudan. He’s Not the First Dictator to Land in Court.

Al-Bashir Is on Trial in Sudan. He’s Not the First Dictator to Land in Court.


Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, appeared in court this week, peering out through a metal defendant’s cage as his trial began.

Mr. al-Bashir, a dictator who spent more than three decades in power before being ousted in April, is facing charges of corruption and money laundering. While some celebrated the trial as a symbol of a new era for Sudan, international rights groups say Mr. al-Bashir also needs to be held accountable for human rights violations inflicted under his brutal rule.

A decade ago, the International Criminal Court indicted Mr. al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for attacks on civilians in the western region of Darfur. A transitional council led by the military declared that Mr. al-Bashir would never be extradited to face the charges, but it is unclear whether that will remain the case as the country seeks to move forward. The next hearing in the corruption case is set for September.

Mr. al-Bashir is far from the first head of state to be put on trial in recent times. Here are some of the most memorable.

The strongman who ruled Egypt unchallenged for nearly 30 years, Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring, when antigovernment demonstrators crowded Tahrir Square in Cairo for weeks demanding his removal. They erupted in celebration when he announced that he would hand power to a military council.

He was soon imprisoned and charged with a number of offenses, including conspiring to kill protesters and corruption. Scenes of the former leader sitting in court in the caged defendant’s box captivated the nation in the trial’s early days.

But Mr. Mubarak’s case was soon eclipsed by the ongoing tumult in Egypt, in which the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by the military and a new autocratic leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, rose to power.

As the focus shifted, Mr. Mubarak managed to avoided prosecution on the most serious charges, the deaths of protesters in 2011. He was eventually found guilty of embezzling state funds and completed a three-year prison sentence. He was transferred to a Cairo hospital in 2015, where he remained under military guard before being quietly released in March 2017

Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s ruthless 17-year rule was an era of thousands of deaths, disappearances and acts of torture in Chile, a country that is still coming to terms with his legacy. After seizing control from a democratically elected president in a 1973 coup backed by the C.I.A., General Pinochet oversaw vast purges of academics and others of liberals.

He gave up the presidency in 1990 and became the head of the army, remaining a political force in Chile through the 1990s and extending his legal immunity by becoming a “senator for life” after he stepped down as head of the army.

But the human rights violations committed during his tenure were documented by the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, a nonpartisan group appointed by his successor that attributed at least 3,200 killings and disappearances to the general’s forces.

During a 1998 visit to Britain for back surgery, General Pinochet, then 82, was detained by the British authorities, who tried to extradite him to Spain to stand trial on charges of crimes against humanity. After a legal battle, he was allowed to return to Chile 16 months later, after being deemed too ill to stand trial.

On his return to Chile, he stepped down from his political post, and a Chilean court deemed him no longer immune from prosecution, raising hopes that his victims may finally see justice. General Pinochet spent the final years of his life in seclusion, fighting off repeated criminal charges, but never standing trial. When he died in 2006 at the age of 91, he had been indicted in three human rights cases and was under investigation in dozens more.

Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt came to power in a coup in the early 1980s, and oversaw Guatemala during one of the bloodiest periods of its decades-long civil war. Under his command, the army swept through the Mayan highlands in an attempt to flush out leftist guerrillas, committing numerous atrocities and massacres while laying waste to indigenous communities.

General Montt’s military dictatorship lasted just 17 months before he was overthrown in a coup. He later returned to government, first founding a political party and later being elected to the Guatemalan Congress.

Immune to prosecution while he served in the government, General Montt was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in January 2012 soon after he retired.

In 2013, he was found guilty in a Guatemalan court of attempting to exterminate the Ixil ethnic group and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. The ruling was seen as a landmark moment for human rights law.

But the initial ruling was soon overturned by Guatemala’s highest court, and General Montt was placed under house arrest. He died in 2018 at the age of 91, while being retried in absentia.

Hissène Habré ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, seizing power in a coup that was covertly aided by the United States, among other countries, who saw him as a Cold War ally.

Mr. Habré was eventually deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby, and fled to Senegal, where he lived in comfortable exile for more than 20 years. A truth commission overseen by his successor found that Mr. Habré’s government killed more than 40,000 people and tortured an additional 200,000.

A campaign to hold him accountable would take more than two decades. In 2000, a Senegalese court charged him with human rights abuses, but later ruled it did not have the authority to try him. A Belgian court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Habré in 2005, but Senegal refused to extradite him. The African Union determined in 2006 that a special court would be created in Senegal to hear the case.

The trial did not begin until 2015. After seven months and testimony from 93 witnesses, Mr. Habré was found guilty of crimes against humanity, torture and sex crimes, and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2017, a court upheld the conviction. A $136 million trust fund, to be handled by the African Union, was established to aid thousands of victims of his brutal rule. Mr. Habré, now 77, is currently serving his sentence in a prison in Senegal.



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