Mr. Abdullah Gul
President of the State

Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Prime Minister

Mr. Koksal Toptan
President of the Parliament

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch wishes to express our concern that you have chosen this moment to welcome President al-Bashir, who is currently subject to a request for a warrant at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. We would ask you to use this opportunity to make it clear to the government of Sudan that Turkey does not, nor will ever, support impunity for such crimes.

The government of Turkey should reject any calls for support for a suspension of the ICC’s investigation in Darfur. In addition you should emphasize that Khartoum must abide by its binding legal obligation not to respond to the investigation or the issuance of any warrant with retaliation against civilians, peacekeepers or humanitarian workers.

We would welcome the government of Turkey reiterating these points in its intervention at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The situation in Darfur

There has been little progress on the ground in Darfur in the last year. The peace process has been stalled for at least nine months while both the government and rebel groups have continued to engage in armed conflict. In 2008 the Sudanese government returned to the violent “scorched-earth” tactics of the early days of the conflict.

The government continues to carry out attacks against civilians, including the bombing of three villages in a single day in February 2008 in which more than 100 civilians were killed, and for which the government has yet to investigate for possible wrongdoing. The government also reportedly bombed three villages in July, two while President al-Bashir was visiting Darfur.

The government continues to obstruct and undermine the United Nations/African Union Peacekeeping force (UNAMID) which, a year after its authorization is barely one-third deployed. UNAMID has also suffered a series of attacks, including a major attack on July 8, 2008 in which seven peacekeepers were killed. The perpetrators have yet to be identified, but the attack was carried out in a government-controlled area, using weaponry not normally available to rebel groups.

The ICC investigation into President al-Bashir

On July 14, 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) requested a warrant of arrest for President al-Bashir on charges of 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

As documented in our December 2005 report, “Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur,” Human Rights Watch found that the highest levels of the Sudanese leadership, including al-Bashir, were responsible for the creation and coordination of the Sudanese government’s counterinsurgency policy that deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in Darfur in violation of international humanitarian law.

Al-Bashir, as commander-in-chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, played a pivotal leadership role in the military campaign in Darfur. His public statements were precursors to military operations and peaks in abuses by Sudanese security forces. There are indications that they echoed the private directives given to civilian administration, military and security services. The methodological use of aerial support to target civilians in the military campaign, despite protests from air force officers, also appears to reflect the involvement of high-level officials in Khartoum.

There is no evidence that al-Bashir or other senior government took serious measures to prevent or stop the abuses. The armed forces and government-backed militia called “Janjaweed” continued to carry out crimes for months after the reports were widely known, and continue to do so to this day.

Nonetheless, the Sudanese government is currently attempting to secure, through a combination of threats and promises, a deferral of the investigation under article 16 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, which gives the Security Council the power to suspend the investigation for up to 12 months at a time in the interests of international peace and security.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned at these efforts to undermine justice for the atrocities in Darfur, and believe that any suspension of the investigation or of individual warrants is both unjustified and fraught with risks:

  • There has been no improvement in the situation on the ground in Darfur, nor in the behavior of the Sudanese government, that would in any way justify such a suspension at this time.
  • Far from operating as effective leverage, to suspend the investigation in return for the promise of future improvements would be to make a fool’s bargain. Khartoum has proven time and again that such commitments are worthless.
  • To suspend the investigation in response to threats from the Sudanese government would be entirely inappropriate and could set a dangerous precedent. Were Khartoum to carry out such threats it would be those responsible for the attacks that created the threat to peace and security, not the operation of the ICC. On the contrary, ending impunity for such crimes can contribute to long-term stability in the region.
  • While each suspension is formally only for 12 months or less, a Security Council willing to grant such a suspension is still more likely to renew it. Therefore a suspension is likely to endure, becoming effective amnesty for these crimes.
  • A deferral of an ICC prosecution risks legitimizing political interference with the court, and may set a dangerous precedent for accused in other situations. It indicates that those responsible for crimes in violation of international law can use threats to secure the Security Council’s assistance in ensuring their impunity for such crimes.

The government of Turkey should send a clear message to President al-Bashir that, far from seeking a suspension of the investigation, he and his government must end the atrocities that continue to be perpetrated in Darfur today, and ensure justice for the victims of those crimes. You should underscore this message in view of the entire international community by including it in your intervention at the General Assembly in September. In this way you can be a valuable voice on behalf of the victims in Darfur.

Yours Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director, Europe and Central Asia Division

Steve Crawshaw
United Nations Advocacy Director