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ICC prosecutor: UN should help deliver justice in Darfur

EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is urging the U.N. Security Council to accelerate action to help deliver justice for thousands of people in Sudan’s western Darfur region, which was wracked by bloodshed in 2003

ICC Prosecutor Khan speaks to the ICC member from Khartoum on August 23, 2022

UNITED NATIONS -- The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to accelerate action to help deliver justice for thousands of people in Sudan’s western Darfur region, which was wracked by bloodshed in 2003.

Karim Khan said in a virtual briefing from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, that his just-concluded visit to Darfur reinforced his resolve to press for a greater focus and more resources to arrest and bring to trial alleged ringleaders of the violence.

“The simple truth is that the nightmare for thousands of Darfuris has not ended,” he said. “And that nightmare of their experiences in large part continues because meaningful justice and accountability has not been felt in the manner that is required, or in my respectful view was anticipated by the council in 2005,” when it referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC.

Khan said that the people of Darfur “are tired of promises” and that “this is the time to move forward.”

The vast Darfur region was engulfed in bloodshed in 2003 when rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency accusing the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of discrimination and neglect.

The government, under then President Omar al-Bashir, responded with a scorched-earth assault of aerial bombings and unleashed local nomadic Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and rapes. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.

In a first-ever briefing to the Security Council by an ICC prosecutor from a country where the court is pursuing justice, Khan said council members should consider visiting Sudan to hear from survivors who still live in refugee camps and still have hopes of seeing those sought by the court prosecuted.

In April, the first ICC trial to deal with atrocities by Sudanese government-backed forces in Darfur began in The Hague, Netherlands. The defendant, Janjaweed leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd–Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, pleaded innocent to all 31 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Khan said the prosecution’s case is expected to conclude early next year.

Al-Bashir, who has been in prison in Khartoum since he was ousted from power in 2019, also faces ICC charges of genocide and crimes against humanity related to the Darfur conflict.

Two other senior figures of al-Bashir’s rule accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC are also under arrest in Khartoum: Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, interior and defense minister during much of the conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time and later the leader of al-Bashir’s ruling party.

Khan told the Security Council that there has been “a backward step” in cooperation between the ICC and Sudan’s current government in recent months. An October military coup in Sudan upended Sudan’s democratic transition after a popular uprising forced the military to remove al-Bashir.

In his report to the council circulated Tuesday, Khan welcomed and acknowledged recent government steps, including the provision of some multiple-entry visas and support with a limited number of requests for assistance.

But it called the overall picture challenging and “a backwards step from the strong period of cooperation enjoyed by the (prosecutor’s) office from Sudanese authorities from February to October 2021.”

“The insecurity that persists following the events of Oct. 25, 2021, also continues to cause disruption to investigative activity,” the report said. “A pivotal moment is being reached in which cooperation by the Government of Sudan must be improved.”

Khan told the council that his office needs multiple entry visas for ICC staff, help in opening an office in Khartoum as soon as possible, and monthly meetings with government officials.

Eight council members that are parties to the ICC — Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, France, Ireland, Norway and Britain — issued a joint statement after the council meeting supporting Khan's call on Sudan for greater cooperation.

They also encouraged all countries to support the courtin ensuring justice for the world's most serious crimes.

Asked what the Security Council could do to help ensure justice for victims in Darfur, none of the eight countries' representatives responded.

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