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(New York) – The request by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor for an arrest warrant for Sudan’s defense minister is an important step toward justice for serious crimes committed in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said today.

The prosecutor’s request on December 2, 2011, is based on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Darfur region of Sudan from August 2003 to March 2004. The defense minister, Abduraheem Hussein, was appointed to the post in 2005 and previously was interior minister. He was appointed the president’s representative for Darfur in 2004, during the height of the conflict in the region.

“Defense Minister Hussein is implicated as a key figure in heinous abuses committed in Darfur, including attacks against civilians,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The warrant request is an important step to advance justice for the many victims of crimes in Darfur.”

Based on Human Rights Watch research, Hussein appears to have played a central role in the Sudanese government’s strategy of “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur. He is believed to have been involved in coordinating military attacks on civilians and “Janjaweed” militia attacks against specific ethnic groups.

Hussein is the seventh suspect sought by the ICC for alleged crimes committed in Darfur by Sudanese government forces, government-backed militias, and rebel forces. The suspects include President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and Ahmed Haroun, then the country’s minister for humanitarian affairs, who is currently the governor of South Kordofan state, where fighting between the government and armed opposition forces broke out in June. Both men are fugitives from the ICC.

The ICC prosecutor formally opened an investigation into crimes committed in Sudan in June 2005 following a referral by the United Nations Security Council.

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