The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) informed the Security Council today that he is almost ready to bring cases about some of the worst war crimes committed in the Sudanese region of Darfur during the past three years.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he will submit evidence to ICC judges by February at the latest and, ahead of that step, he is now introducing measures to protect victims and witnesses.
According to the text of his statement to the closed-door Council meeting, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said that his first case will focus on a series of incidents in 2003 and 2004, when conflict emerged in Darfur as Government forces and allied militia clashes with rebel groups seeking greater autonomy.
“The evidence provides reasonable grounds to believe that the individuals identified have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the crimes of persecution, torture, murder and rape, during a period in which the gravest crimes occurred in Darfur,” he said.
In a press statement released following his briefing, the Prosecutor said “perhaps most significant, the evidence reveals the underlying operational system that enabled the commission of these massive crimes.”
The Council referred the Darfur issue, along with the names of 51 suspected perpetrators, to the recently established ICC in March 2005, after a UN inquiry into whether genocide occurred in Darfur found the Government responsible for crimes under international law and strongly recommended referring the dossier to the court.
The probe also found credible evidence that rebel forces were responsible for possible war crimes, including the murder of civilians and pillage.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others forced to flee their homes in Darfur, an impoverished region roughly the size of France on Sudan’s western flank.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said his office had taken more than 100 formal witness statements and screened hundreds of potential witnesses since the start of its investigation, travelling to 17 different countries to pursue inquiries.
He also said his office is closely following recent reports of continuing violence in Darfur, despite the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in May by some of the parties to the conflict, and an apparent spillover into neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).
“Violent clashes between factions inside the [rebel] movements, as well as between the different movements, have led to significant numbers of civilians being killed,” Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said.
“There are also disturbing reports of a repetition of similar patterns associated with earlier crimes, including reports of attacks on civilian locations by armed militias, supported by elements of the Sudanese security forces. Incidents of rape and sexual assaults continue to be reported at very high levels.”
The ICC is designed to be a court of last resort, used when a nation’s own justice system is unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute war crimes. During his briefing the Prosecutor said the information he had received so far from the Sudanese Government about individuals who had been arrested “do not appear to render the current [ICC] case inadmissible.”
Established by the Rome Statute of 1998, the Court can try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. It is based in The Hague.