The trial of senior Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb – the first prosecution to get underway at the request of the UN Security Council – represents “a glimmer of hope for justice in Darfur,” Sudan, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor on the case told the chamber on Tuesday.
Briefing from Khartoum, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan updated the ambassadors on a landmark moment for both justice in the restive region and the ICC-UN Security Council relationship.
“We must collectively ensure it is the beginning of true accountability and not a false dawn,” he said on the proceedings, which commenced on 5 April and cover 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Darfur’s descent into genocidal conflict began in early 2003, who two rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese Government, which they accused of discrimination against the non-Arab population of the region, starving it of resources.
The Government response was to carry out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs, co-opting mostly Arab Janjaweed militia. Hundreds of thousands were killed and several million displaced during the brutal fighting, with the Janjaweed burning and pillaging hundreds of villages across Darfur.
Over the last four months, the testimony of the 28 witnesses who have appeared before the court so far, reflect a gruelling cruelty that Mr. Karim described as “a microcosm of suffering”.
He explained that the ICC’s presence on the ground resonates with the people of Darfur and Sudan.
It also shows that justice can be delivered with perseverance, courage, and partnerships, he told ambassadors.
While acknowledging that “much more needs to be done,” the ICC prosecutor warned against being “victims of our own cynicism” – as it can become “a self-fulfilling prophecy”.
Justice “must matter to all of us,” he underscored.
Mr. Karim cautioned that it would be a “false promise” to think that all of the horrific events in Darfur fell solely on the shoulders of Ali Kushayb, whose real name is Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman.
While his case is expected to conclude early next year, the Prosecutor explained that ICC judges have issued warrants for other cases in relation to the war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur.
Noting that “a backwards step has taken place in terms of cooperation in recent months,” Mr. Karim emphasized the need for more “cooperation and accountability”.
He informed the Council that he had also delivered that message to two Sudanese generals during a meeting earlier in the day. A military coup nine months ago ended the power sharing agreement between top military and civilian leaders, following the removal of long-term leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
Further progress will require a revived commitment of meaningful cooperation from the current military-led administration to ensure sustained access to victims, witnesses and relevant documentation.
“I have returned to Sudan to strengthen the basis for our common work towards accountability,” he said. “Cooperation from Sudanese authorities is essential if we are to deliver meaningful justice for Darfur”.
The ICC Prosecutor said that he had just returned from Darfur yesterday, where he visited the large Kalma refugee camp.
He also had a meeting with the Governor of Central Darfur and visited two other camps – an impactful experience that reinforced his resolve that the situation in Sudan must be properly prioritized, with resources and activities to deliver on the mandate given to the ICC 17 years ago.
The nightmare for thousands of people has not ended because meaningful justice and accountability have not been delivered as anticipated by the Council in 2005, he said.
Kalma Camp was established in 2004 and 300,000 people live there today, most as a result of the activities that compelled the Council to refer the Darfur situation to his office.
During his visit, residents of the camp rejoiced and chanted “Welcome ICC!”, said Mr. Khan, expressing a strong belief that justice can be delivered for Darfuris.
He told those displaced that while they may be cut off from roads, they are not cut off from hope.
Describing the “caravan of humanity” that had travelled to the camps and allegations of rapes and killings, he said he hoped he had not spoken out of turn when he told people there, that the Council will not forget Darfur “because they have not forgotten you”.
He said that the Juba Peace Agreement for Sudan, signed by the transitional government to end internal conflict between warring factions across the country in October 2020, could not be allowed to disguise current inaction, and suggested that the Council consider holding a session in Sudan, to hear from those in camps.
If the international community does not deal with historic abuses, the ICC Prosecutor maintained that a cycle of impunity may well continue, and other cycles of violence could follow.