ICC Hears First War Crimes From 2003 Sudan Darfur Conflict After Nearly Two Decades

The International Criminal Court heard the confirmation of charges in a Pre-Trial Chamber II  from May 24 to 26 for the first war crimes from the Sudan Darfur conflict in The Hague (the Netherlands). 

Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, a senior commander of government-sponsored militia “Janjaweed” fighters during the height of the Darfur conflict from 2003 and 2004, is facing 31 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes including persecution, murder, torture, and rape according to the prosecution’s document submission

Prosecutors build these testimonies from witnesses against Abd-Al-Rahman. At the current stage of the trial, this is necessary to determine if there is sufficient evidence to establish that Abd-Al-Rahman committed the crimes. 

The chief ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she would provide evidence to show that Abd-Al-Rahman led attacks on towns, villages, which caused more than 300 murders as well as raids that forced over 40,000 civilians from their homes. Most of the forced displaced civilians are ethnic Fur civilians. 

“He played a crucial role, leading attacks, committing murders, and ordering other murders,” Bensouda said in the opening session

Abd-Al-Rahman is the first suspect to be tried after 18 years since the Darfur war broke out. The case was referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council in 2005, according to the ICC

He surrendered in the Central African Republic and was transferred into the ICC’s custody on June 9, 2020. According to the ICC, his first appearance took place on June 15, 2020. 

“The pain inflicted on the victims of these crimes persists,”  Bensouda said in the trial. “The region of Darfur is still grappling with the devastation brought about by these events.” 

Bensouda read a testimony from a rape victim and witness who experienced the horrors and crimes from these raids. 

A 2011 Amnesty International report includes a statement from a survivor of one of these raids,  “In these attacks, men are killed, women are raped and villagers are forcibly displaced from their homes which are burnt; their crops and cattle, their main means of subsistence, are burnt or looted.” 

Along with stating that sexual war crimes are a priority, in this case, Bensouda explained the other impacts on civilians like displacement. 

The Darfur conflict began when war broke out in 2003 between two ethnic rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement. Both accused the government of supporting Arab pastoralists over African farmers. The Sudanese armed forces and the militia, “Janjaweed” are blamed for most of the war atrocities. 

Darfur is made up of five states and has a diversity of more than 80 tribes and ethnic groups, and the OHCA says that a majority of rebel ethnic groups are drawn from the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa tribes. This has caused a concentration of these rebel groups in the western region of Darfur. 

Over 480,000 people have been killed and more than 2.8 million people have been displaced by this conflict as of 2020 according to World Without Genocide

Despite the end of the war in 2004, it still has an impact on the Darfur region today with many civilians attacked and displaced. According to Al Jazeera, a paramilitary unit from the former Janjaweed militia, Rapid Support Forces (RSF), attacked a refugee site that hosted 14,000 people in April. 

At least 130 people were killed and the Sudan government declared a state of emergency. 

“According to the UN, in the first four months of this year, some 237,000 people have been newly displaced, almost five times as many people for the whole of 2020,” Al Jazeera stated. 

The peacekeeping joint unit, United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) withdrew from the Darfur region in January, according to the United Nations

Although a peace agreement was signed between the transitional Sudanese government and rebel groups in 2020, fighting continues between ethnic tribes despite the overthrow and arrest of former Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, according to the New York Times

According to AP news, Bensouda urges the Sudanese government to turn in Al-Bashir and other suspects to the ICC. 

“In this case today, we seek justice for the victims of rape, murder, torture, and other crimes committed in Darfur. Our evidence, we submit, will bear out the facts, the criminality, and ultimately culpability in this case,” Bensouda said.

Bensouda is urging the UN Security Council to pressure the government of Sudan to charge other war criminals complicit in these crimes. 

This is the first hearing for the Darfur conflict that occurred nearly two decades prior which directly harmed millions of people. The UN has continually urged the government of Sudan to protect civilians impacted by the ethnic clashes that continue to displace civilians. They also call for the necessity of justice, accountability, and reparations for victims.

Jadenne Radoc Cabahug
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