(New York) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor’s case against two Sudanese leaders for atrocities in Darfur is a first step in ending the impunity associated with horrific crimes there, Human Rights Watch said today. Earlier today, the ICC prosecutor asked Pre-Trial Chamber I to issue summonses for two suspects to appear before the court.
"The ICC prosecutor's request sends a signal to Khartoum and ‘Janjaweed' militia leaders that ultimately they are not going to get away with the unspeakable atrocities," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "We urge the prosecutor to explain the significance of his action today to the communities devastated by crimes in Darfur."
The prosecutor is seeking summonses for State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun and "Janjaweed" militia leader "Ali Kosheib," (a pseudonym for Ali Mohammed Ali). According to information previously collected by Human Rights Watch, Haroun is believed to have participated in official meetings in Darfur where he allegedly incited "Janjaweed" militia and army forces to attack specific ethnic groups. "Ali Kosheib," according to research carried out by Human Rights Watch, was one of the key leaders responsible for attacks on villages around Mukjar, Bindisi, and Garsila in 2003-2004 in West Darfur. As a result of the government-militia coordinated campaign in Darfur, civilians have suffered direct attacks from land and air, including summary execution, rape, torture, forced displacement on a massive scale, and the pillaging of their property.
In a December 2005 report entitled "Entrenching Impunity: Government responsibility for international crimes in Darfur" Human Rights Watch identified Haroun and "Ali Kosheib" as two of at least 22 individuals bearing responsibility for international crimes committed in Darfur.
The prosecutor's request comes nearly two years after the Security Council passed a resolution referring the Darfur situation to the ICC for investigation. In June 2005, the prosecutor formally opened an investigation into crimes committed in Darfur.
The ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber must now review the information submitted by the prosecutor to determine whether to grant the request. If the Pre-Trial Chamber judges are satisfied that there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that the persons have committed the crimes alleged and that summonses are "sufficient to ensure" that they appear before the court, they will issue the summonses.
"So far we haven't seen any willingness from Sudanese officials and Janjaweed leaders to appear before this court and we are hard pressed to believe a summons will bring these two men to The Hague," said Richard Dicker. "We will have to look carefully at the prosecutor's explanation for seeking summonses rather than arrest warrants."
Human Rights Watch also urged the ICC prosecutor to continue his investigation and investigate others responsible for the most serious atrocities in Darfur, including those in the military and highest echelons of power in Sudan.
"Officials at the highest levels of the Sudanese government are responsible for widespread and systematic abuses in Darfur," said Dicker. "While the individuals identified today are important, the ICC prosecutor should move up the chain of command to target those senior Sudanese government and military officials responsible for the most serious crimes in Darfur."
Full cooperation by the Sudanese authorities will be essential for the continuation of the ICC's investigations in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said. Cooperation includes granting ICC officials entry into Darfur and facilitating ICC access to documents, physical evidence and witnesses. It also includes protecting victims and witnesses who provide information to the ICC from any harassment, threats, and acts of intimidation or ill-treatment based on their cooperation with the ICC.
Since early 2004, Human Rights Watch has comprehensively documented the Sudanese government's responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed hundreds of victims and other eyewitnesses of the crimes there over the past three years, including government officials and former members of the armed forces. In "Entrenching Impunity," Human Rights Watch describes in detail the Sudanese government's strategy of using civilian officials and the armed forces to recruit, support, and coordinate the "Janjaweed" militias. The report also highlights the role of senior Sudanese government policymakers in initiating and implementing the campaign.
Background on Sudan and the ICC
Since early 2003, Sudanese government forces and militia forces known as "Janjaweed" have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes on a massive scale in the context of counterinsurgency operations against rebel movements in Darfur, Sudan's western region bordering Chad.
More than 2 million of Darfur's estimated population of 6 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes since February 2003 as a result of a government-supported campaign of "ethnic cleansing" carried out in the context of an internal armed conflict. Despite overwhelming evidence of the Sudanese government's role in committing atrocities alongside ethnic militia allies known as "Janjaweed," the government continues to deny its role in the abuses and minimize the scale of the crisis.
Currently almost 2 million displaced people remain in camps and towns, entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, and cannot return to their homes and farms due to ongoing attacks, rape, looting, and assault by the government-backed militias as well as other armed actors. An additional 1 million people require food and other assistance as a result of the collapsed economy and pervasive insecurity.
Since Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the ICC could only investigate and prosecute crimes in Darfur following a referral by the UN Security Council. The Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in March 2005. After having determined that the crimes in Darfur fell under ICC jurisdiction, the prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo opened his investigations in June 2005. Since then, the prosecutor has reported semiannually to the Security Council on the progress of his investigation.