ICC Prosecutor: ‘No tangible accountability or justice for Darfur’s people after 17 years’
ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan has expressed his frustration that 17 years have now elapsed without any tangible accountability or justice for Darfur’s people. In the 34th report to the UN Security Council (UNSC) by the ICC on the situation in Darfur and Sudan, Khan said that while Sudan remains at a delicate stage of its political transition following its 2018 popular uprising and the October 2021 military coup, “accelerated cooperation with the ICC is the only viable path to ensuring long-delayed justice for the survivors of crimes against humanity in Darfur”.
In particular, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan told the UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York on Monday the absence of cooperation on the part of Sudan under the leadership of former Sudan President Omar Al Bashir led the Court’s last Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to hibernate the investigation.
However, he said, following the 2018 uprising that overthrew Al Bashir and put Sudan on a path of political transition, the Court was able to visit the country for the first time in many years and new progress was registered. On 9 July 2021, his Office successfully secured confirmation of all 31 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Ali Muhammad Ali Abdelrahman, a senior leader of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur, for crimes including murder, rape, torture and attacks on the civilian population. That trial will commence in April, marking the first-ever International Criminal Court trial stemming from a Security Council referral.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan briefs the UN Security Council in New York on Monday (UN TV)
He went on to note that four other individuals related to the Darfur situation are currently subject to Court arrest warrants, including Al Bashir; former Minister of Interior Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein; and former Governor of South Kordofan Ahmed Harun. The fourth individual, former Justice and Equality Movement commander Abdallah Banda, remains at large. Outlining his initial meetings with Sudan Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, members of the country’s Sovereignty Council and other officials there, he recalled that the Court signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government in which, for the first time, the latter agreed to facilitate a full-time Court presence on the ground in Sudan.
Voicing regret that the military takeover in Sudan on 25 October 2021 marked a major setback in the Court’s work, he nevertheless reported that his team was able to travel to Khartoum in December to obtain fresh assurances from the Government that their work can continue. He outlined his bolstered support to his Office’s Darfur team, including additional resources and the appointment of a pro bono Special Adviser devoted exclusively to the Darfur investigation. Pledging his commitment to press forward, he repeated his request to the Government that his Office be granted safe and secure access to documents, crime scenes and witnesses in the months ahead.
As Council members took the floor to share their views, several praised recent strides made by the Court and urged the Government of Sudan — despite the turmoil resulting from the October coup — to redouble its commitment to cooperating with the Prosecutor’s Office. However, several voiced concern about external actors exerting undue pressure or influence in Sudan, noting that transitional justice arrangements were clearly laid out in the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement and urging Sudan’s partners to give the country space to implement them. Other speakers raised long-standing concerns about the Court more broadly, underlining the critical importance of respecting Sudan’s judicial sovereignty.
The representative of Albania expressed support for the Court’s work and its role in bringing justice to the victims of the heinous crimes against humanity. “Without accountability, human rights will be denied, crimes will be perpetuated and impunity for past conflict-related crimes will persist,” he said. Voicing concern about the precarious security situation in Sudan, as well as ongoing violations of human rights by the military authorities, he joined other speakers in welcoming progress in the Abd-Al-Rahman case and urging the Government of Sudan to continue to deepen its cooperation with the Court.
Ireland’s representative voiced concern that the 25 October military coup interrupted the significant progress made up to that point in the Prosecutor’s investigations. Citing recent reports of civilian deaths, the rape of women and girls, the forced displacement of thousands and the destruction of property — acts which may fall under the jurisdiction of the Court — he urged a return to the progress made prior to October, including the conclusion of a further memorandum of understanding and plans to deploy a full-time investigative team in Sudan.
Other speakers spotlighted progress made in Sudan and the need to give the country time and space to implement its own transitional justice arrangements. The representative of China, for one, said Darfur entered a new stage of peacebuilding with the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement. Urging the international community to support Sudan in shouldering the primary responsibility for ensuring its own peace and security, he said the country’s partners should remain adequately patient and the Court should strictly abide by the principle of complementarity, respecting Sudan’s judicial sovereignty.
Kenya’s delegate said the people of Sudan are having a promising, and at the same time volatile, national dialogue on the nature of government, democracy, justice and accountability. In its engagement with Sudan, the Court should embrace the aspirations of the Sudanese people as reflected in their established, and desired, justice and accountability processes. In addition, she noted that resolution 1593 (2005) invited the Court and the African Union to discuss practical arrangements to facilitate the Court’s work, including the possibility of conducting proceedings in the region.
The representative of the Russian Federation, meanwhile, expressed his country’s long-standing concerns over the Court’s work. Noting that the credibility of any legal body is based on its openness and transparency, he declared: “Unfortunately, the [Court] is still far from these standards.” Emphasizing that the Charter of the United Nations does not endow the Court with the right to interpret the will of the Council, he stresses that the main objective in Sudan should be to achieve national reconciliation. “The [Court] has done nothing to this end in the whole of the 15 years of its work on the situation in Sudan,” he stressed, adding that the country’s people can achieve justice on their own.
Sudan’s delegate said achieving justice in Darfur is a main pillar of the work of his country’s transitional authorities. “Sudan will remain committed to accountability,” he stressed, underlining the importance of truth, justice and healing the wounds of victims. Noting that the authorities are working to implement the Juba Peace Agreement and enact the transitional justice arrangements contained therein, he said the country has passed a Transitional Justice Act and developed a National Civilian Protection Plan. Sudan is cooperating closely with the Court as outlined in the 2021 memorandum of understanding and is operationalizing plans to improve security and justice in Darfur, he added.
Also speaking were the representatives of Mexico, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, United States, Ghana, United Kingdom, France, Gabon, India and Norway.
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