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Darfur Justice Back on International Agenda

World powers’ apparent focus on peace over justice looks set to change following new outrages.
The international community this week got behind the International Criminal Court, ICC, after evidence emerged that the government of Sudan has been committing a new wave of crimes against those displaced by earlier violence.

Justice for Darfuri victims has for some time been firmly off the agenda of world leaders, who have repeatedly failed to mention the ICC and its arrest warrants for two Sudanese citizens in dealings with the government of Omar al-Bashir and its allies.

But that changed this week with United Nations Security Council heavyweights including Britain, France and the United States all urging Sudan to cooperate with the court and hand over the rebel leader and government minister wanted by the ICC.

“Countries have realised that the Darfur situation has gone from bad to worse, that all diplomatic measures have come to nothing and words have proved useless until now,” said Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

But observers say that initial reticence by world leaders on the ICC has come at a high price for the people of Darfur, as it appears to have given Khartoum the green light to commit a second wave of war crimes against civilians there.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the UN Security Council on December 5 that “massive crimes” are continuing to be committed across Darfur and said he would open two new investigations in Darfur into a “pattern of attacks” by Sudanese officials against civilians forced from their village and into camps.

He will also investigate attacks against peacekeepers and aid workers such as the October killing of ten African Union soldiers during an assault on their base in Haskanita.

“We are witnessing a calculated, organised campaign by Sudanese officials to attack individuals and further destroy the social fabric of entire communities,” Moreno-Ocampo told the Security Council. “All information points not to chaotic and isolated acts but to a pattern of attacks.”

Unlawful killings, illegal detentions and sexual violence are among the crimes being routinely committed, he said, while those living in camps for internally displaced people “are deliberately kept in a state of destitution. Obstacles to the delivery of aid are part of the pattern of attacks”.

He also said ICC indictee Ahmed Harun, Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs, has been present during recent operations against IDP camps. Ten months ago, Harun and janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb were charged by the court as coordinators of violence against innocent civilians in Darfur.

Sudan has refused to hand over either man and its defiant rhetoric continued this week with Sudan’s UN ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, repeating that the government would not send Harun or Kushayb to The Hague.

In sharp contrast with their previous silence, Security Council members lined up on December 5 to urge Sudan cooperate with the court.

The UK permanent representative to the UN, John Sawers, emphasised Britain’s support for the ICC and said Sudan should arrest and surrender the indictees. He said the Security Council should give its “full and public backing” to the court, a call echoed by Jean-Maurice Ripert from France who said the council should adopt a resolution reminding Sudan of its obligations.

Even the US, which has refused to sign up to the ICC, demanded that Sudan cooperate, while Sudanese ally China called for a stepping up of communication and cooperation between the court and Khartoum.

This pressure is essential and must continue, say analysts.

“Very little has changed on the ground, [and] the reason for this is the relaxed reaction of the international community to what is going on there,” said Abdelbagi Jibril, the executive director of the Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre in Switzerland. “The UN resolution to refer the Darfur situation to the ICC has yet to be followed by concrete action to force the government of Sudan to comply.”

Leslie Lefkow, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, agrees the Security Council must play a more active role in resolving the impasse, drafting a formal resolution demanding that Sudan send Harun and Kosheyb to The Hague.

“The Sudanese government has been flaunting their lack of cooperation with the ICC very clearly and publicly,” she said. “They've continued to maintain Ahmed Harun in his position as state minister for humanitarian affairs and to add insult to injury they've increased his responsibilities in the last few months since the arrest warrants were issued, so this is clearly something that the Security Council has to consider and has to react to. Their silence will only be taken as acquiescence.”

In his address to the UN, Moreno-Ocampo revealed that Harun has recently been appointed to a group charged with overseeing the deployment of a 26,000 strong UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Some believe that the successful deployment of that force - known as UNAMID - is one reason the international community has been reluctant to speak up in support of the ICC before now.

“The international community went silent on the ICC and it was because they were trying to negotiate UNAMID,” said Deidre Clancy, co-director at International Refugee Rights Initiative. “They wanted to avoid pushing the ICC then finding [Sudanese] reticence on UNAMID. [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon did raise the issue when he met with al-Bashir in September but made no public statement.”

But that focus on peace over justice has backfired, says Abdelsalam Hassan, a London-based Sudanese human rights lawyer.

“In recent months, it is clear the government is not serious on reaching peace in Darfur,” he said. “They are constantly putting obstacles [in the way]. Because the international community did not get behind the court, it certainly sent the wrong message to the Sudanese government that it could get away with what it was doing.”

And with new ICC investigations set to begin, Hassan says world leaders must not make the same mistakes again.

“If the states do not support the decisions the ICC takes there is no meaning to the establishment of the court and investing resources into it,” he said. Dick Leurdijk, senior research associate at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, believes sanctions against Sudan could be next on the UN agenda . “Ocampo's main message [to the international community] is that it's up to you to pressure Sudan,” he said. “Basically, he's asking for sanctions against Sudan, whether through political or economic means.”

Back in Darfur, the ICC prosecutor's two new investigations will focus on a fresh wave of attacks by Sudanese officials against 2.5 million forcibly displaced civilians, and against humanitarian aid workers and peace keepers, which he told the UN are “happening right now in front of our eyes”.

In full view of the international community, Moreno-Ocampo said Sudanese officials are facilitating the settlement of Janjaweed supporters on land belonging to non-Arab Fur and Masalit tribes.

He also spoke of the 35,000 Chadians encouraged to settle in destroyed villages, depriving Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa a safe place to return. “Resettlements are consolidating the displacements,” he said.

Attempts are also being made by Sudanese officials to dismantle big camps and forcibly relocate the displaced population into smaller areas where they are easier to control.

Moreno-Ocampo made it clear that although Harun is a key player in this new wave of violence, he is not alone. “My office will investigate who is bearing the greatest responsibility for ongoing attacks against civilians; who is maintaining Harun in a position to commit crimes; who is instructing him. This is my second case,” he said.

Human rights advocate Hafiz Mohammed says the new investigations are good news. “It’s good to have a fresh investigation, to discover all these new crimes,” he said. “It is important psychologically. People might think twice before they commit any more crimes. It is an important deterrent. They [the ICC] haven’t got enough power to make arrests but they still have a very good affect in the region.”

Lisa Clifford, Katy Glassborow and Sonia Nezamzadeh are IWPR reporters in The Hague.

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