Crimes are still being committed against civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) told the United Nations Security Council today, while noting a continued lack of progress towards arresting those already indicted for alleged atrocities.
“The words of the Government of Sudan representatives, promising further peace initiatives, are undermined by actions on the ground that show an ongoing commitment to crimes against civilians as a solution to the Government’s problems in Darfur,” Fatou Bensouda said in her briefing to the 15-member body.
It was the Council that in 2005 asked the ICC, which is based in The Hague, to investigate war crimes in Darfur after a UN inquiry found serious violations of international human rights law.
In March 2009, ICC judges issued arrest warrants against Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003 due to fighting between rebel groups and Government forces and their allies, militiamen known as the Janjaweed.
Government ministers Ahmed Harun and Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, as well as militia leader Ali Kushayb, were also indicted, while summonses to appear were issued for rebel leaders Abdallah Banda, Saleh Jerbo and Abu Garda in relation to war crimes.
Although Sudan is not a State Party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC, it is obliged to cooperate with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor in accordance with a Council resolution adopted in 2005.
“It should be clear to this Council that the Government of Sudan is neither prepared to hand over the suspects nor to prosecute them for their crimes,” said Ms. Bensouda, who took up the post of Chief Prosecutor in June.
“There are no words to properly express the frustration of Darfur’s victims, which we share, about lack of any meaningful progress towards arresting those indicted by the Court,” she stated. “The failure of the Government of the Sudan to implement the five arrest warrants seems symbolic of its ongoing commitment to a military solution in Darfur, which has translated into a strategy aimed at attacking civilian populations over the last ten years, with tragic results.
“Victims of Darfur crimes can hardly wait for the day that fragmentation and indecision will be replaced by decisive, concrete and tangible actions they expect from this Council,” she added.
Ms. Bensouda noted that investigating the Darfur situation was an enormous challenge for the Office of the Prosecutor and a huge sacrifice for the witnesses and victims whose lives remain at risk as a result of their interaction with the Court. “The question they ask is: were their sacrifices in vain?” she said.
At the same time, there are specific incidents which seem to represent “an ongoing pattern of crimes committed pursuant to the Government-avowed goal of stopping the rebellion in Darfur,” Ms. Bensouda reported.
“I must reiterate,” she added, “that these alleged ongoing crimes, similar to those already considered by the Judges of the International Criminal Court on five separate applications, may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”
Her Office will consider whether further investigations and additional applications for arrest warrants are necessary to address ongoing crimes, including those undertaken with the aim of thwarting delivery of humanitarian aid, attacks on peacekeepers serving with the joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), as well as bombardments and other direct attacks on civilian populations.
Meanwhile, Ms. Bensouda reported that good progress has been made towards the start of the trial for two of the three individuals accused of war crimes in the 2007 rebel attack on the African Union peacekeeping base at Haskanita, in North Darfur. The trial is expected to begin in 2013, although the defence has asked for its postponement until 2014.
“I look forward to the opportunity to present to the Judges the substantial and voluminous evidence gathered in the other four cases, following the arrest and surrender of the four individuals sought by the Court,” she said. “This is an essential step towards delivering justice for Darfur’s victims.”