Former Darfur janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb, who has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, made his first appearance before International Criminal Court (ICC) Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala in The Hague this morning. Kushayb was arrested in the Central African Republic (CAR) last week, and transferred to ICC custody.
For this morning’s session, Kushayb himself appeared via video link from the ICC detention centre in nearby Scheveningen, while Judge Aitala, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and Kushayb’s defence represented by Cyril Laucci as Duty Counsel, convened – observing current Covid-19 precautionary distancing guidelines – in ICC Courtroom III.
The agenda for today’s initial appearance hearing was to verify the identity of the suspect and the language in which he is able to follow the proceedings. He was also informed of the charges against him.
When the judge asked the suspect to confirm the video link was working, the suspect insisted: “My name is not Kushayb. My name is Ali Muhammad Abdelrahman.”
After some clarification as to pronunciation by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Judge Aitala agreed provisionally to henceforth refer to the suspect as ‘Mr Abdelrahman’.
The suspect confirmed to the court that he was born on October 15, 1949, in Rahad El Berdi [South Darfur ed].
Clarifying the nature and purpose of the initial appearance, Judge Aitala explained: “Today’s hearing is not a trial. It is not a hearing regarding the confirmation or non-confirmation of charges, evidence will not be introduced or presented, and the individual criminal responsibility of Mr Abdelrahman will not be therefore discussed.”
He continued that the scope of today’s hearing is limited to three questions: 1) The single judge must be satisfied that the person subject to the arrest warrant is informed of the crimes he is alleged to have committed; 2) the single judge must be satisfied that the person is informed of his rights under the Rome Statute; 3) the single judge must set the date on which the chamber will intends to hold the hearing to confirm or decline to confirm the charges.
When asked by the judge whether he has been informed of the crimes he is alleged to have committed, Kushayb (Abdelrahman) confirmed: "Yes, I was informed, but this is untrue…They made me come here and I hope that I will get justice."
At today’s hearing, the Clerk of the Court read-out the charges, listing 53 counts on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur.
Judge Aitala provisionally scheduled the opening of the confirmation of charges hearing for December 7, 2020.
New warrant of arrest
In 2007, the ICC issued arrest warrants against former Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Ahmed Haroun, and Ali Kushayb for numerous counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On Friday June 11, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC reclassified as public, with redactions, a second warrant of arrest against Kushayb. An ICC statement explains that the second arrest warrant was initially issued as secret on January 16, 2018. It adds three new charges of war crimes (murder) and crimes against humanity (murder and other inhumane acts) allegedly committed in Deleig and surrounding areas between on or about March 5 to 7, 2004.
In a press statement following today’s the hearing, the ICC explains that the case against Kushayb (Abdelrahman) has been severed from the case of Ahmad Haroun, as Haroun has not yet been surrendered to the court. “This is done with a view to protecting Mr Abdelrahman’s right to fair and expeditious proceedings and in the interest of judicial economy.”
The case of the Prosecutor v. Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb (ICC-02/05-01/07) based on the 2007 arrest warrants, was previously considered a considered a single case, however, the ICC explains that “until Ahmad Haroun is arrested and transferred to the seat of the Court in The Hague, his case will remain in the Pre-Trial stage. The ICC does not try individuals unless they are present in the courtroom.”
As previously reported by Radio Dabanga, on February 11, government negotiators and the Sudan Revolutionary Front rebel alliance agreed during peace talks on the Darfur track in the South Sudan capital of Juba, to hand deposed dictator Omar Al Bashir and the other ICC indictees to the court in The Hague.
On February 22, activists reported that in fear of arrest by the transitional government, Kushayb fled his residence in Rahad El Berdi in South Darfur, accompanied by several armed men, and was seen moving to Um Dafug locality where he crossed the border into the Central African Republic (CAR).
There has been widespread reaction to Kushayb’s arrest across Sudan.
Refugees from Darfur living in camps in eastern Chad welcomed Ali Kushayb’s surrender to the ICC and his transfer to The Hague to face justice. They call upon the Sudanese government to extradite all other indictees too.
Bukhari Ramadan, community leader in Gaga refugee camp, told Radio Dabanga that Kushayb’s surrender to the ICC renewed their hope of achieving justice for the victims, and retribution against those who had killed their families and displaced them from their homes.
Ramadan thanked the ICC prosecutor for her continuous efforts to achieve justice. He also called on the Sudanese government to extradite all other indicted suspects to The Hague.
In Khartoum, lawyer Mohamed El Doma, head of the Darfur Bar Association, said that Kushayb’s surrender to the ICC is a great victory for the victims. He also demanded that the government extradites former President Omar Al Bashir, former Minister of Interior Affairs and Defence Abdelrahim Hussein, former governor of North Kordofan Ahmed Haroun, and former leader of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement Abdallah Banda to The Hague. Al Bashir, Hussein and Haroun are all in custody in Sudan.
He stressed that there is no trial in Sudan against these ICC suspects for crimes committed in Darfur at this moment. “Therefore, it is better to hand them over to the International Criminal Court.”
As reported by Radio Dabanga last week, the Sudanese government has welcomed the arrest of Kushayb and his transfer to the ICC in The Hague. It is willing to discuss the extradition of the remaining suspects.
As part of the Sudanese authorities’ pursuit of justice for victims of the war in Darfur, Information Minister Feisal Mohamed Saleh expressed in a statement the willingness of the Sudan government to discuss the extradition of the remaining suspects wanted by the ICC, namely former President Omar Al Bashir, his aide Abdelrahim Hussein, former Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun, and former rebel leader Abdallah Banda.
Saleh further stated that Kushayb has been charged with a number of crimes by the Sudanese authorities as well.
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