PRESS CONFERENCE BY HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS ON INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT MEETING
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
29 November 2007
The day before the sixth session of the International Criminal Court’s Assembly of States Parties was scheduled to beginat United Nations Headquarters in New York, human rights activists urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to use the two-week session as an opportunity to publicly call upon the Sudanese President to cooperate with the International Court and turn over two men charged with committing war crimes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
In early September, Mr. Ban had travelled to Sudan to meet with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and discuss the United Nations plans to help end the violence in Darfur with a large peacekeeping force and negotiations towards a political settlement between rebel militias and the Government.
“But the Secretary-General never made any statement to show that he’s committed to ensuring the cooperation of the Government of Sudan with the Court,” said Osman Hummaida, Director of the INSAF Centre for Justice and Peace in Sudan, as he opened a press conference at Headquarters this afternoon.
“That’s quite disappointing for Darfurians. First, they see that there is a glimmer of hope for accountability and justice for Darfur, but they see it now as being distant and as a memory,” he said.
Mr. Hummaida and other human rights activists said they were waiting to see if Mr. Ban and the 105 States parties to the Rome Statute which established the Court would have harsh words for Sudan’s leadership on Monday when they addressed their meeting. “That will be a crucial benchmark to evaluate where the level of cooperation with this Court stands,” said Richard Dicker, Director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Programme.
Mr. Dicker said that States parties should also show their strong support for justice by attending the 5 December Security Council meeting during which the Court’s Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was expected to report on the Sudanese Government’s lack of cooperation.
“Silence on justice is not cost-free. To the contrary, it only emboldens obstructionist regimes and reinforces their sense of impunity, making them intractable on issues across the board,” Mr. Dicker said.
In April, the Hague-based Court charged Ahmad Harun for organizing a system to attack civilians in Darfur, but the Sudanese Government had since appointed him Minister of State of Foreign Affairs and co-chair of a national committee investigating human rights abuses that would work closely with the hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, known as UNAMID, to be deployed in January to protect civilians. Pro-Government militia leader Ali Mohammed Ali Abdalrahman, also charged by the Court with war crimes, remained at large.
“The contradiction is very clear and the message is very clear that Sudan is defying the international community and it doesn’t care about its obligations to the Security Council,” Mr. Hummaida said, adding that the special court set up by Sudan’s Governmentto try war crimes and other serious offences perpetrated in Darfur had mostly looked into burglary and other minor crimes that had nothing to do with the Hague Court’s cases.
Similarly, Mr. Dicker called the Sudanese Government’s response “an affront to the victims” and “a slap in the face to the Secretary-General, personally and professionally”.
He said that, in the last four years, the International Court had made considerable and impressive progress: it had issued arrest warrants for perpetrators of heinous crimes in three countries, opened field offices in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Central African Republic, and would hold its first trial in January 2008. But the lack of cooperation and support from some State and non-State parties, as well as international organizations, remained a formidable challenge and could cause the Court to fail.
Ndifuna Mohammed, National Coordinator of HURINET-U, a national network of human rights organizations in Uganda, agreed. He pointed to the long-running conflict in Uganda, where the Government was a State party to the Rome Statute. According to Mr. Mohammed, Uganda’s Government was not fully cooperating with the Court and had yet to enact a 2004 bill aimed at facilitating such cooperation.
Officials were still invoking the country’s Amnesty Act, under which it could give blanket amnesty to people who renounced violence or armed rebellion, including those who had committed atrocities, he said. Northern Ugandans were also concerned that both national and Court investigations had been skewed in one direction, with only members of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) being tried for war crimes and not members of the Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPDF), Uganda’s Government troops. Fears were high that if peace negotiations failed, civilians would have no protection against future human rights abuses.
“The big challenge is that if we are to give in to demands of LRA leadership that the case before ICC be withdrawn, what signals are we sending out to those who have committed crimes against humanity within the region and farther a field?” Mr. Mohammed wondered. “That will be used as a bargaining chip for those that violated the rights of people and committed crimes against humanity worldwide.”
William Pace, Convener of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, also spoke during the press briefing.
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For information media • not an official record
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