UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor told the U.N. Security Council Monday his “clear finding” is that there are grounds to believe both Sudan’s armed forces and paramilitary rivals are committing crimes in the western Darfur region during the country’s current conflict.
Karim Khan, who recently visited neighboring Chad where tens of thousands of people from Darfur have fled, warned that those he met in refugee camps fear Darfur will become “the forgotten atrocity.” He urged Sudan’s government to provide his investigators with multiple-entry visas and respond to 35 requests for assistance.
Sudan plunged into chaos last April when long-simmering tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary, commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, erupted into street battles in the capital, Khartoum, and other areas.
Darfur, which was wracked by bloodshed and atrocities in 2003, has been an epicenter of the current conflict, an arena of ethnic violence where paramilitary troops and allied Arab militias have been attacking African ethnic groups.
The fighting has displaced over 7 million people and killed 12,000, according to the United Nations. Local doctors’ groups and activists say the true death toll is far higher.
In 2005, the Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC, and prosecutor Khan has said the court still has a mandate under that resolution to investigate crimes in the vast region.
He told the council: “Based on the work of my office, it’s my clear finding, my clear assessment, that there are grounds to believe that presently Rome Statute crimes are being committed in Darfur by both the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces and affiliated groups.”
The Rome Statute established the ICC in 2002 to investigate the world’s worst atrocities — war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — and the crime of aggression.
In Darfur, Khan warned, the world is confronted with “an ugly and inescapable truth” relating back to the original conflict.
“The failure of the international community to execute the warrants that have been issued by independent judges of the ICC has invigorated the climate of impunity and the outbreak of violence that commenced in April that continues today,” he said.
“Without justice for past atrocities, the inescapable truth is that we condemn the current generation, and if we do nothing now, we condemn future generations to suffering the same fate,” Khan said.
Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Al-Harith Mohamed countered that the government has cooperated with the prosecutor’s office and is waiting for a visit from him. He accused the ICC of not taking into consideration its “strategic engagement and the operational realities on the ground.”
Mohamed called the Rapid Support Forces a “militia” and accused it of committing wide-scale, systematic attacks which aim “to force ethnic cleansing and identity killing” of Darfur’s Masalit ethnic community. He said it’s up to the prosecutor to determine if this amounts to genocide.
The Sudanese ambassador said the armed forces don’t call for war but are compelled to defend the country, stressing that soldiers spare no effort to minimize collateral damage and comply with the laws of war including proportionality.
The 2003 Darfur conflict began when rebels from the territory’s ethnic 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 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.
Khan told the council Monday it was “quite stunning” in visiting different refugee camps in Chad that people who lived through the Darfur confllict from 2003 told him spontaneously that what is happening today “is the worst ever.”
“And they’re very grateful to the council for casting a lifeboat on the high seas for them to clamber aboard,” the prosecutor said. “They want justice and they see the ICC is a very important vehicle to ensure that they’re not forgotten, or they drown unseen and unheard.”
Last 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 urged the parties to the ongoing conflict to respond “meaningfully” to requests for assistance from Abd-Al-Rahman’s defense team.
The prosecutor said he was pleased to report to the council that there has been “progress” in the ICC cases against former president al-Bashir and two senior government security officials during the 2003 Darfur conflict, Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein and Ahmed Haroun.
“We’ve received evidence that further strengthens those particular cases,” Khan said. The three have never been turned over to the ICC, and their whereabouts during the current conflict in Sudan remain unknown.