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Sudan at a crossroads

Transparency Int'l

This week, the corruption trial of deposed President Omar al-Bashir got underway in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

Over US$113 million in cash was reportedly found at Bashir’s residence after he was removed from office earlier this year. A detective who testified at the trial claimed that Bashir had told him he had received millions from Saudi Arabia’s royal family.

Bashir is also facing allegations of atrocities during the Darfur conflict. The International Criminal Court has charged him with multiple counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Some have called for him to face these charges in The Hague, while others have pointed out the risks of doing so.

In any case, with Bashir facing corruption charges in Sudan, his trial will be an important test for the country’s justice institutions under the new authorities. Last weekend, the military council and the civilian opposition signed an agreement that is meant to guarantee a peaceful transition to a civilian government. This is especially positive given the risk of instability and further human rights atrocities under long-term military rule.

Corruption in Sudan is endemic, and deeply embedded in the norms and expectations of political life. The country has been a fixture in the bottom five countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index for years. An independent judiciary that can give Bashir a fair trial with due process would be a step towards building confidence in Sudan’s future. A politicised trial seeking a quick victory against a hated former dictator would not.

If properly conducted, Bashir’s trial can also expose the networks, tools and patterns of high-level corruption in Sudan, and the shortcomings in its integrity infrastructure which must be corrected. Anti-corruption shouldn’t end with convicting a few individuals — it should create a culture of integrity and the mechanisms to support it.

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