The Hague: Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court on 27 February named a Sudanese minister and a Janjaweed militia leader as the first suspects they want to try for war crimes in the Darfur conflict.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accused the pair of 51 crimes against humanity and war crimes — including murder, torture and mass rape — as the stricken Sudanese region entered a fifth year of the civil war which has left more than 200,000 dead, according to UN figures.
Ahmed Haroun, Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs and a former minister in charge of Darfur, and Ali Kosheib, a principal leader of the Janjaweed militia accused over some of the worst Darfur atrocities, could become the first Darfur suspects to face a war crimes trial.
“Based on the evidence the prosecution collected we consider Ali Kosheib and Ahmed Haroun to be some of those most responsible for crimes committed in Darfur,” Moreno-Ocampo told a press conference.
Sudan responded by rejecting the court’s legitimacy and insisting it would try any Darfur war criminals.
“The ICC has no jurisdiction on any Sudanese over any type of crime,” Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi insisted.
Moreno-Ocampo stressed that the case, which has been referred to the court by the UN Security Council, is admissible here because the Sudanese justice system was not investigating the same incidents or alleged crimes.
The prosecutor has sent a 100-page document outlining the evidence to the judges who must decide if there are enough grounds to issue a summons or an arrest warrant for the suspects.
The Human Rights Watch group said the naming of the Darfur suspects sent a signal to Khartoum and Janjaweed militia leaders that “ultimately they are not going to get away with the unspeakable atrocities”.
Moreno-Ocampo focussed his 20-month investigation on events alleged to have occurred between 2003 and 2004, the most violent period in the crisis.
The Arab Janjaweed militia, armed and backed by the Sudanese government, are accused of the worst violence, involving attacks on civilians of black African origin.
Moreno-Ocampo would not say if his Darfur investigation could also target more senior Sudanese political and military officials, but stressed his office was continuing to gather evidence.
According to ICC prosecutors, Haroun recruited, funded and armed the Janjaweed “that would ultimately number in the tens thousands”.
They cited the minister as saying at a public meeting that he had been given “all the power ... to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur”.
The International Crisis Group think-tank, dedicated to preventing deadly conflict, stressed the importance of the evidence presented against Haroun.
“It is a clear indication that the government of Sudan, at senior levels, has played a central role in planning and carrying out the atrocities in Darfur,” Nick Grono of the Crisis Group said.
Khartoum insisted on 26 February that the minister had already been interrogated and cleared of any suspicion.
Kosheib, who is also known as Ali Muhammed Ali, is one of the key leaders of the militia. The prosecutor said Kosheib “issued orders to Janjaweed and armed forces to victimise the civilian population through mass rape ... killings, torture, inhumane acts, pillaging and looting .. (and) the displacement of resident communities”.
He is currently in custody in Sudan and under criminal investigation.
The UN says some 200,000 people have died in the fighting and 2.5 million have been displaced since 2003.The US has described the Sudanese government’s repression in Darfur as “genocide”.
When asked if the evidence he presented could lead to future genocide charges, Moreno-Ocampo said there was currently “enough evidence for the crimes identified”.“(But) we are not dismissing something else,” he stressed.
Fighting continues in Darfur today despite the signing last May of a peace agreement between the Khartoum government and the main Darfur rebel faction.