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ICC urges Sudan to give investigators access to Darfur

December 10, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2020 file photo, Sudan's ousted president Omar al-Bashir sits at the defendant's cage during his trial a courthouse in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The officer of Sudan’s prime minister says International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is arriving in Khartoum Saturday, Oct. 17, to discuss cooperation with local authorities over the trial of those internationally wanted over war crimes and genocide in the Darfur conflict. Among those wanted by the court is former President Omar al-Bashir. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)
FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2020 file photo, Sudan's ousted president Omar al-Bashir sits at the defendant's cage during his trial a courthouse in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The officer of Sudan’s prime minister says International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is arriving in Khartoum Saturday, Oct. 17, to discuss cooperation with local authorities over the trial of those internationally wanted over war crimes and genocide in the Darfur conflict. Among those wanted by the court is former President Omar al-Bashir. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor urged Sudan’s government on Thursday to match its commitment to justice in Darfur with action, starting with unimpeded access for the tribunal’s investigators to witnesses, crime scenes and other evidence in the country’s vast western region.

Fatou Bensouda said in a virtual briefing to the U.N. Security Council that she didn’t doubt “the sincerity” of high-level officials from Sudan’s transitional government, but stressed that “access to Darfur is what the victims expect, and it is what Sudan, with the support of this council, must facilitate.”

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The conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region broke out when rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency in 2003, complaining of oppression by the Arab-dominated government in the capital Khartoum.

Then-President Omar Al-Bashir’s government responded with a scorched-earth campaign of aerial bombings and unleashed militias known as 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.

The ICC charged al-Bashir with war crimes and genocide for allegedly masterminding the campaign of attacks in Darfur. He has been under arrest since the Sudanese military, under pressure from protesters, ousted him in April 2019.

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.

Bensouda said her office has not received any confirmation from Sudanese authorities on what actions they intend to take on the ICC suspects in their custody. She appealed to the council, and through it to government authorities, to intensify talks with her office “in relation to these outstanding warrants.”

Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb, whose real name is Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, surrendered to authorities in the Central African Republic, Sudan’s neighbor, in June and was flown to The Hague, Netherlands, where the ICC is headquartered to face multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur in 2003 and 2004.

The court is also seeking rebel leader Abdulla Banda, whose whereabouts are not known.

Bensouda stressed that the court’s pre-trial chamber has postponed the hearing on confirmation of the charges against Ali Kushayb until Feb. 22 and said “the window of opportunity” to conduct investigations on the ground before it is quickly closing.

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She urged the Security Council to press the government for access, and she urged the government to swiftly respond to the draft memorandum of understanding on cooperation with the ICC that was sent after she made the first visit to Khartoum by a prosecutor since the Darfur conflict in October.

The 10 Security Council members that are parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC -- Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia and United Kingdom -- as well as Ireland, Mexico and Norway who will join the council in January, issued a joint statement welcoming Bensouda’s first official visit as “an important step in ensuring justice is delivered for the people of Darfur.”

They welcomed commitments by the government and several former rebel groups “to full and unlimited cooperation with the ICC” and encouraged Sudanese authorities to implement this commitment and facilitate swift access for ICC staff to Sudanese territory to conduct its investigations, especially on Ali Kushayb.