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SUDAN: ICC war-crimes move 'a good first step'

NAIROBI, 28 February 2007 (IRIN) -

The decision by the International Criminal Court to name war-crimes suspects in Darfur was a sign of progress but there was still a long way to go before justice could be delivered, analysts said.

"Sudan is legally obliged to cooperate, but I see some complications," Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday. "The key questions are what the pre-trial chamber decides and what the prosecutor does next. Sometimes, international justice takes a while to bear fruit."

Mariam Juma, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said that while the move was a good step, it could end up hardening attitudes against the United Nations.

"It is too early to tell, but it is important to note that Sudan is not a signatory to the ICC; neither are the international powers that want to use the ICC," Juma said. "While it is important that there is some movement on impunity, we need to ask: will it include rebel groups that have also been involved in atrocities? Will it also look at cross-border influences?"

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo unveiled the court’s evidence on Tuesday after investigations conducted over 20 months. "The prosecution has concluded there are reasonable grounds to believe that Ahmad Muhammad Harun [a government minister] and [militia leader] Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (better known as Ali Kushayb) bear criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes," Moreno-Ocampo said at The Hague.

"These alleged crimes were committed during attacks on the village of Kodoom, and the towns of Bindisi, Mukjar, and Arawala in West Darfur between August 2003 and March 2004," he added.

Sudan immediately rejected the ICC submission. Justice Minister Ali Al-Mardhi said Sudan would not hand over any person for trial by the ICC because "the court has no jurisdiction to try any Sudanese national for alleged committed crimes".

Sudan, the minister said, was responsible for applying laws within its borders in accordance with the principles of international law, adding that his country had not ratified the convention that established the ICC.

In a separate statement, the adviser to President Omar el-Bashir, Majzoub Khalifa, said his government rejected the trial of any Sudanese national outside the country, on the principle that anyone who committed a mistake would be tried by the Sudanese legal system. Neither the Sudanese people nor the Sudanese government would allow the trial of Sudanese citizens outside their homeland, he added.

HRW, in a separate statement, said the case against the two Sudanese leaders was a first step in ending the culture of impunity associated with horrific crimes in the region.

"The ICC prosecutor’s request sends a signal to Khartoum and ‘Janjawid’ militia leaders that ultimately they are not going to get away with the unspeakable atrocities," said Richard Dicker, HRW’s director of human rights. "We urge the prosecutor to explain the significance of his action today to the communities devastated by crimes in Darfur."

The ICC move comes nearly two years after the UN Security Council passed a resolution referring the Darfur situation to the ICC for investigation. A formal inquiry began in June 2005.

HRW 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.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when rebels took up arms to fight Khartoum’s Islamist regime. The government responded by arming Janjawid militias to contain the conflict; the militias instead launched a campaign of rape and murder, targeting black African communities.

An estimated two million people have been made homeless by the conflict, which has since spilled over into eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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