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RIGHTS: Sudan Rejects ICC Warrants on Darfur

Mithre J. Sandrasagra

UNITED NATIONS, May 3 2007 (IPS) - The International Criminal Court (ICC), based in the Netherlands, issued its first warrants Wednesday for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s conflict-wracked Darfur region.

“The ICC judges ruled that there is sufficient evidence on the merits of the prosecutor’s case and reasonable grounds to believe that the two individuals are responsible for murder, rape, torture, the forced displacement of entire villages, and other war crimes against humanity,” Marie Okabe, deputy spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, told reporters.

The warrants – which list 51 counts – give Khartoum responsibility for the arrest of Ahmad Muhammad Harun, a former interior minister and currently minister for humanitarian affairs, and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Muhammad Al Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb.

“The government of the Sudan has a legal duty to arrest Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb,” said ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. “This is the International Criminal Court’s decision and the government has to respect it.”

In response, Khartoum argued that like the United States, Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute, which created the ICC in 2002, and is therefore not bound by its decisions.

Sudan has signed the Rome Statute, but not ratified it.

Sudan said Thursday that it has found no evidence to support the charges of the ICC, and it would not hand over suspects accused of war crimes in Darfur.

Sudanese Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Al-Mardi said a probe into the activities of Harun found he had no direct link to any military operations in Darfur.

But Okabe stressed that the case “not only highlights the connection between a senior minister in the Sudanese government and a militia leader, it also shows the underlying operational system that enabled massive crimes against innocent civilians in Darfur.” Since the fighting began in February 2003, when members of the region’s ethnic African tribes took up arms against what they saw as decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, violence sponsored by the Sudanese government and perpetrated by its Janjaweed militias has claimed at least 400,000 lives, displaced 2.5 million people and left more than 3.5 million men, women and children struggling to survive amid violence and starvation, according to the U.N.

The Sudanese Armed Forces and the Janjaweed militia, acting together as part of a counter-insurgency campaign, carried out several attacks on the towns of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar, Arawala and surrounding areas in 2003 and 2004.

According to allegations made public in the warrants, criminal acts were committed against civilians in these towns, primarily from the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit populations.

Ahmad Harun served from 2003 to 2005 as Sudan’s interior minister and was in charge of the management of the “Darfur Security desk.” In this capacity, he coordinated the different bodies of the government involved in the counter-insurgency, including the Police, the Armed Forces, the National Security and Intelligence Service and the Janjaweed.

Ali Kushayb was one of the most senior leaders in the Janjaweed. He was perceived as the “mediator” between the leaders of the Janjaweed and the government of Sudan.

“In his public speeches Ahmad Harun not only demonstrated that he knew that the Militia/Janjaweed were attacking civilians and pillaging towns and villages, but also personally encouraging the commission of such illegal acts,” according to the ICC.

The ICC also concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Ali Kushayb enlisted fighters, armed, funded and provided supplies to the Janjaweed under his command and personally participated in some of the attacks against civilians.

The Security Council first referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in March 2005, through Resolution 1593, “determining that the situation in Sudan continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security.”

“The Security Council has obligated Sudan to cooperate with the ICC, and Sudanese officials should stop flouting their responsibility to comply,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch.

Ali Kushayb is thought to be currently in detention in Darfur, awaiting trial.

But there is no confidence that the Sudanese government is able or willing to prosecute him effectively in this case, according to Amnesty International.

“The U.N. Security Council must now demand that Sudan – or any other state in whose territory the two suspects are found – arrest and surrender them immediately,” said Erwin van der Borght, director of Amnesty’s Africa Programme.

“The U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) should also be requested and equipped to arrest and surrender them,” van der Borght stressed.

Amnesty urged the African Union to press the Sudanese government to arrest and surrender the two men, and to direct their forces currently in Darfur to do the same if they are found within their sphere of operations.

“Today’s decision by the ICC indicates an important step forward in how the international community will deal with Sudan over the gross human rights violations taking place in Darfur,” said van der Borght Wednesday.

It is no longer seen to be enough to just conduct political negotiations over strengthening the current peacekeeping force in Darfur and try to further peace talks, he said.

“Concrete steps must also be taken immediately to hold people to account for the crimes being perpetrated against the people of Darfur,” said van der Borght. “Seeking justice for the people of Darfur now will not hinder the continuing search for a political solution – it will only serve to make that solution, when it is found, more durable.”

The U.N. Security Council, which first discussed Darfur almost one year into the crisis in April 2004, authorised 22,500 U.N. peacekeepers for Darfur by Resolution 1706.

Khartoum refused to consent to the deployment, and the U.N. has continued to push for a political solution involving all stakeholders.

Khartoum has made a habit of going back on its word to the international community regarding U.N. peacekeepers, but after the negotiations with Ban in April, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir confirmed that Sudan has no objections to a 3,000-strong peacekeeping force.

The Security Council has begun the likely months-long process of securing funding for and deploying the 3,000 peacekeepers Khartoum has approved.

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