Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Darfuris Rail Against Possible Rebel Indictment

Victims say the ICC should focus its energies on investigating government officials.
By Katy Glassborow
People displaced by the Darfur conflict are urging prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, ICC, not to lose sight of those they view as the main perpetrators of atrocities in the region – the government.



The calls came after prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo recently asked judges to indict rebel commanders for an attack on African Union, AU, peacekeepers, known as AMIS, in Haskanita in September 2007, in which 12 peacekeepers were killed and eight injured.



The prosecutor’s request is a significant shift for the ICC which has to date focused its attentions on the Khartoum authorities and regime-backed paramilitary groups.



In July, Moreno-Ocampo requested an indictment for President Omar al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur, and for instructing Sudanese armed forces and allied janjaweed militia to murder, forcibly transfer, torture, and rape Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa communities there.



Judges are reviewing the evidence, but have already indicted Ahmed Harun, minister in charge of humanitarian affairs, and janjaweed commander Ali Kushayb, for crimes in Darfur.



Sudan refuses to hand them over. Accused of displacing civilians into camps and continuing to torment them, Harun remains in his post, and the government continues to thwart the roll-out of aid to the uprooted population.



Yasir, an IDP (internally displaced person) from the Zalingei camp, said people are confused by the application for indictments against rebels.



“Violence against civilians is ongoing almost daily. The only way to stop that is to work faster in [the] al-Bashir case, not to announce another case. People are listening to news day after day to hear the next step in al-Bashir case,” he said.



Darfuri lawyer Khalil Tukras, working in El Fasher for a human rights monitoring NGO, agrees that the request is confusing.



“People [are not concerned about] indictments of rebels... More important is indictments for government people – who committed higher levels of human rights violations. If you measure the violations by the government, and the rebels, there is no comparison,” he said.



“The government should be charged and arrested, this is the main issue. People on the ground say the international community failed to bring peace to the ground, and failed to stop the government committing more crimes.”



Schoolteacher Assha Ismaiel from Algenena in west Darfur said the rebel attack on the peacekeepers was a one-off and does not compare to government-orchestrated atrocities.



“The only time I heard rebels commit crimes is the Haskanita attack, but I saw horrors beyond human imagination committed by the government forces and its janjaweed militia. All the villages and places that I knew around the Algenena areas since my childhood are now ruined and destroyed, yes, hundreds of them,” said Ismaiel



“Who did this? Is it the government or the rebels? Who forced 600,000 out of their villages and chased them to Chad and the Central Republic of Africa? Who committed crimes of mass murder and rapes?



“It’s the government of Omar al-Bashir who destroys our life and turns it into hell. The world should stop this now.”



Musa Alsanosi from Nyala in south Darfur

acknowledged that rebels have made mistakes and committed crimes, but says they do not compare to those of the government and janjaweed.



“Let the figures speak: how many villages the rebels burned since the start of the conflict? I can say not one village. How many civilians did they target and kill? I can’t rule that out, but few. How many women they raped? None. So, you can’t speak about a comparison here.



“The [rebels] belong to the same people who have been killed and displaced by the government. Across Darfur, it’s difficult to find those who put the blame on the rebels. When the government sends aircraft to drop bombs on Darfuri villages, how can we speak about comparison between rebels and government?



“People in Darfur now know who is enemy and who is friend.”



MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – KEEPING THE PEACE IN DARFUR



During the Haskanita attack, 1,000 rebels stormed the AMIS base, destroying equipment and making off with vehicles, computers, cell phones, uniforms, fuel, ammunition and money.



Abdelbagi Jabril from the Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre in Geneva says people, frustrated by what they see as the ineffectiveness of the peacekeepers, began seeing AMIS as an extension of the government.



“Victims were suspicious because the AU just took photos and wrote reports and passed the information to HQ in Khartoum,” said Jabril.



Tukras said people saw that the AU had guns and military support, but “when the people were being killed and attacked, the AU did nothing to protect them”.



The United Nations decided to boost the 7,000 AMIS peacekeepers and deploy 26,000 hybrid AU-UN troops, called UNAMID, in January 2008, but only 50 per cent of the proposed 26,000 peacekeepers are on the ground.



Ali Dawood, an IDP in the Abu Shouk camp in El Fashir, north Darfur, for over five years, said peacekeepers trying to help people in Darfur lost their lives in the Haskanita attack, but he says he struggles to understand their exact function.



“I never went to school, but what does the term ‘peacekeeping’ mean? Why don’t they create peace before they talk about keeping it…? You can’t keep what you don’t have; it’s simple as that,” he said.



“Everybody in Darfur knows there is no peace here, there is nothing but death and destruction and no one able to stop it. I have nothing to do with those foreign troops who can’t even protect themselves. They have nothing to offer us.”



UNAMID is frustrated by its inability to protect civilians, too.



“We are struggling to do our job and fulfil our mandate,” admitted Noureddine Mezni, a

spokesperson for UNAMID.



“Our mandate is bizarre. We are supposed to keep a peace which doesn’t exist. How can you expect us to do the job on the ground properly when there is no peace to keep? There is not enough troops or equipment.”



Darfuris say the government, which is alleged to have chased them into camps and is now reportedly hampering the flow of aid they receive, has no intention of creating or maintaining any peace.



“How many times the government has publicly said that it was not going to accept troops from country x and y? This happened so many times but we never heard the international community telling the Sudanese government that it had to keep its promises,” said Ismaiel from Algenena.



“Why nobody is ready to confront this reality? So again I say the same: if they remain in charge in Khartoum, [the] life of ordinary Darfuris will continue to deteriorate and more people will die.”



However, Mezni argues that cooperation with Sudanese authorities was an integral part of the resolution which created UNAMID, and that because Sudan is not a failed state, the force must engage with the government as well as IDPs and rebels.



He said a tripartite committee has been established to review technical details of the deployment, and that responses from the government have thus far been satisfactory.



“Things are moving better than before. [The tripartite committee] allows us to go into details about visas; transportation of equipment; the use of airports,” he said.



Dawood is less confident about such initiatives, saying the government does not want a strong UNAMID force capable of protecting civilians.



“How on earth can we believe the same government who sent janjaweed, Antonov aircrafts, and armed forces to turn our land into battlefields and create these catastrophes would allow the UNAMID to succeed? Tell me how?” he asked.



“It’s absurd to suggest that; if they allowed that, they would have not created this mess in the first place.”



Jabril, from the Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre, said the AU and UN are putting the lives of the people of Darfur in danger, and those of the soldiers which make up the peacekeeping force.



“They are always listening to the government of Sudan and asking permission, in a way which is beyond comprehension. The government of Sudan is an integral part of the crisis in Darfur, in fact, it is responsible for it.



“Why do the AU and UN expect the government to cooperate with the forces who are coming to protect the victims who they have killed, destroyed their lives and displaced?”



Mezni insists progress is being made with the government, pointing out that UNAMID could be up to 80 per cent deployed by March 2009.



Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. Tajeldin Adam is an IWPR-trained journalist.