Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sudan condemns Darfur genocide trial

Sudan said this week the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over its nationals and the government would not allow any of its citizens to be tried outside Sudan. The statement rules out Sudanese support for any international trials of Janjaweed or Darfur rebels under the auspices of the ICC. The statement was significant in that it came a day before the ICC's chief prosecutor's office was due to name the first war crimes suspects for Darfur.

On the following day, the Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo named the two men wanted by the ICC. He announced charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Sudanese minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Muhammed Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Mohamed Ali Abd al-Rahman (also known as Ali Kosheib). The court said the two were suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape and murder. Moreno Ocampo said Haroun and Abd al-Rahman were part of a conspiracy to "persecute civilians they associated with rebels".

But Sudan has repeatedly said it will not respect any judgements handed down by the ICC, and it is not a signatory to the convention that created the court. Al-Rahman is currently under investigation for actions in Darfur and has been in detention in Khartoum since November on suspicion of violating Sudanese laws. The other man wanted by the tribunal, Ahmed Haroun, told Al Jazeera the ruling was politically motivated. “The ICC had no jurisdiction to take action on this issue for the simple reason that the government of Sudan did not approve the ICC basic law,” he said.

In the four years of conflict, most NGOs estimate at least 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million people turned into refugees. However the Khartoum Government denies these figures and says only 9,000 have died. Sudan's Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi has repeatedly denied that any genocide or ethnic cleansing has occurred in its troubled western province. Al-Mardi has painted his government as peace-keepers and claimed regional and international organisations should respect his government's efforts to restore peace in Darfur. The two sides announced a ceasefire in January 2007.

However the ICC's chief prosecutor said in December his investigators had found evidence of rape, torture, murder and sexual violence in Darfur. 54-year old Argentinean Luis Moreno-Ocampo was elected unopposed as the first ICC Chief Prosecutor in 2003. Moreno-Ocampo established a reputation as an independent human-rights lawyer and prosecutor who fought corruption. He rose to prominence as an assistant prosecutor during the 1985 trials of former officers of Argentina's military junta. In 1992, Moreno-Ocampo quit as Main Prosecutor of the federal court and started his own law firm specialising in corruption control, criminal law and human rights law.

Moreno-Ocampo made a statement on 27 February about the current status of the Darfur trial. It stated Harun and Al-Rahman bore criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during attacks on villages in West Darfur between August 2003 and March 2004. It stated the attacks were carried out by the Janjaweed militia and the Sudanese armed forces and targeted civilians on the rationale that they were supporters of the rebel forces. Moreno-Ocampo went on to say “This strategy became the justification for the mass murder, summary execution, and mass rape of civilians who were known not to be participants in any armed conflict”.

Harun and Kosheib are the first to face trial since the Darfur conflict flared up in 2003. It represents a major test for the power of the ICC. The world's first permanent war crimes court started work in 2002 and is now supported by 104 nations, although still not by Russia, China and the US. The court can only prosecute crimes committed after 1 July 2002, the date its founding treaty, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, entered into force. Although the Americans have often stated their objections to the ICC on grounds it may be used for politically motivated prosecutions of its citizens, it has raised no objections to the Darfur trials.