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    First Sudanese militia leader to face ICC trial for Darfur crimes

    April 4, 2022

    Camp in north Darfur: serious crimes by government and government-allied forces persist

    A GOVERNMENT militia leader in Sudan is to become the first person accused of alleged crimes committed in the Western Sudanese region of Darfur to face trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

    Ali Kushayb will appear before the Court on April 5 charged with 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that took place in 2003 and 2004, almost 20 years after the start of alleged serious crimes being committed in the region.  

    The ICC issued the first arrest warrant for Kushayb on April 2007.

    He was eventually taken into custody at the ICC in June 2020, after surrendering himself voluntarily in the Central African Republic.

    In July 2021, Pre-Trial Chamber II unanimously confirmed all the charges brought by the Prosecutor against Kushayb and committed him to trial.

    He is believed to have been the principal leader of the pro-government Janjaweed militias in West Darfur, and also to have held commanding positions in the Popular Defence Forces and Central Reserve Police.

    In early 2003, the Janjaweed worked alongside the Sudanese government forces during its armed conflict with rebel groups to carry out a systematic campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” The campaign targeted civilians from African Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, from which the members of the rebel groups were drawn.

    Attacking from the air and land, Sudanese government forces and allied militias were accused of killing, raping, and forcibly displacing more than two million people from their homes and land.

    The Sudanese government was said to have recruited, armed, and trained the Janjaweed forces.

    Human rights activists say that Kushayb’s trial is a rare, long-awaited chance for the victims and communities the Janjaweed terrorised to see an alleged leader face justice.

    Darfuris and activists in Sudan and across Africa have long campaigned for the surrender of Kushayb and other ICC suspects.

    One Darfuri man who works with Darfuri refugees and internally displaced people told Human Rights Watch: “We appreciate the role of the ICC, not in a vindictive way, but for justice, for people all over the world, to know that no one is above justice, and for every dictator who wishes to exterminate and kill his people or his neighbours to know he will face the law.”

    A Khartoum-based activist who works with Darfuri victims told the human rights watchdog: “When we sat down with the victims [in the past two years in Darfur], we asked them what they need and they said: ‘We need justice.’… We cannot express our feeling; how happy we are that … justice is being prevailed.”

    Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said: “For all these years, those implicated in serious crimes and other abuses in Darfur have largely suffered no consequences, and in some instances, have even been rewarded.

    “In the face of steep odds and no other credible options, the ICC is serving as the crucial court of last resort for Darfuris.”

    She added: “Would-be abusers should take note that they can end up in court even if it is slow going.

    “Now, Sudanese authorities should surrender the remaining fugitives, including former President Omar al-Bashir, so victims have the opportunity to also see them held to account.”

    Four other people, including al-Bashir, are facing ICC charges and are still being sought.

    Al-Bashir is wanted on five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide.

    He is currently in Sudanese custody and standing trial alongside other former officials for his alleged role in the 1989 coup against Sudan’s last elected government.

    Given that Sudan is not a party to the ICC, the UN Security Council had to refer the situation in Darfur to the ICC.

    This requires the government of Sudan to cooperate with the court but this has never been forthcoming.

    In the meantime, human rights bodies say that serious crimes in Darfur by government and government-allied forces have persisted over the years, fuelled by massive impunity, including rewarding some of those implicated in crimes.

    An extended ceasefire that began in 2017 helped reduced violence, but government forces and their proxy militias continued to carry out some attacks against civilians, rights activists say.

    They add that abuses again intensified in 2019, largely by local armed groups, in some cases implicating state security forces, in the wake of the withdrawal of a hybrid UN/AU peacekeeping force and again with the October 2021 coup.

    Human Rights Watch noted: “While various factors, often localised ones, have played a role in the recent uptick in violence, the failure of the authorities over the last two years to provide meaningful civilian protection and justice for past and ongoing abuses has contributed to the escalation in violence and civilian harm.

    “West Darfur in particular has experienced several serious bouts of violence since the beginning of 2021, with hundreds of people killed, tens of thousands displaced, and significant civilian property destroyed.”

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