The Darfur tragedy reaches international justice 20 years later | International
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The conflict unleashed in 2003 in the Sudanese region of Darfur has reached the International Criminal Court (ICC). Almost 20 years ago, ethnic African rebels rose up against the majority Arab government in Khartoum, whom they accused of marginalizing them. The then president, Omar Al Bashir, responded by mobilizing the armed forces and Janjaweed militiamen, who terrorized the population and prevented the arrival of medicine and food. The humanitarian crisis unleashed caused nearly 300,000 deaths and almost two million internally displaced persons, according to the United Nations. This Tuesday, Ali Mohamed Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, alias Ali Kushayb, alleged former commander of said militia, pleaded not guilty to 31 war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated between 2003 and 2004. Thus, a process focused on what has been unofficially described as the first genocide of the 21st century.
The Darfur tragedy filled the world’s news two decades ago, with a profusion of images of the Janjaweed, called devils on horseback by the population, and of Sudanese civilians killed or fleeing their homes. The past time has partially diluted the collective memory of what happened, but the current process shows that the slowness of international justice does not reduce its effectiveness. It is also a warning signal for those responsible for the atrocities committed now in the war in Ukraine: they can be tried by this same court, although it will take time to do so.
Ali Kushayb, 72, surrendered in June 2020 to the authorities of the Central African Republic. He was later transferred to the Netherlands, the seat of the ICC. The charges against him include persecution, murder, rape, torture, looting, and inhumane acts against dignity. The prosecution maintains that he was a militia leader with authority, and points out that the events in which he participated caused hundreds of deaths. The accusation against him is also for direct responsibility, and he is considered suspected of having carried out counter-insurgency work under the orders of the Sudanese Government. He denies the charges, has pleaded not guilty, and says he is not Ali Kushayb and did not lead the Janjaweed.
The case relating to Darfur was referred in 2005 to the ICC by the UN Security Council for investigation, and Karim Kahn, the court’s chief prosecutor, recalled that Russia voted in favor then. In his allegation, Kahn has taken advantage of all the resources available to him to underline the historicity of the moment. He has said that the Sudanese victims “have been fasting for justice.” He has relied on videos filmed in the region by international media to point out that “the elderly, custodians of dignity in their communities” were eliminated or harassed. He has explained the selection of girls and women, who were raped. “It is a crime anywhere and can have serious consequences for the future of the victims: they cease to be valuable in their environment.” He has recalled that minors drag the effects of violence throughout their lives, and has mentioned “the strange glee of the accused before his reputation as a ruthless boss.”
The former Sudanese president, Omar Al Bashir, deposed in 2019 after 30 years in power, is serving a sentence in his country for corruption. The difficulties for the ICC to judge him have resulted in criticism of this court over the years. For its part, the trial against Ali Kushayb comes at a time of resurgence of violence in Darfur. On a national scale, Sudan has been immersed in a crisis since a military coup in 2021 disrupted the transition to democracy. This process had begun in 2019 at the hands of a cabinet of difficult cohabitation between civilians and the military.
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