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ICC Prepared for Darfur Prosecutions

Prosecutor says he could bring charges of persecution, torture, murder and rape.
By Caroline Tosh
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, ICC, says he has evidence to prove crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed in Darfur.



Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the UN Security Council on December 14 that his office was nearing the end of its investigation in the war-torn region and has found “sufficient evidence to identify those who bear the greatest responsibility for some of the worst crimes in Darfur”.



“The evidence [gathered] provides reasonable grounds to believe that individuals identified have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the crimes of persecution, torture, murder, and rape,” said Moreno-Ocampo.



The chief prosecutor also said that Sudanese judicial proceedings - including signs that Khartoum had arrested 14 war crimes suspects –“did not render the case inadmissible” before the ICC.



As a court of last resort, the ICC can only intervene to investigate and prosecute war crimes where a state is unwilling or unable to do this itself. Sudan has so far insisted that it is willing and able to try those responsible for Darfur and has refused to co-operate with ICC investigations.



The briefing at the UN headquarters in New York was accompanied by the second of two annual reports, which the Security Council asked for in March 2005 when it requested the ICC prosecutor open an investigation in Darfur - a region in western Sudan roughly the size of France.



The investigation began on June 6, 2005 and has concentrated on “a series of incidents that occurred in 2003 and 2004, during a period and in a location where the highest number of crimes were recorded”.



Conflict in Darfur broke out in 2003, and is predominantly between the Janjaweed - an Arab militia group - and the region's black African population. The Sudanese government has denied allegations that it supports the Janjaweed by providing arms and by joining them in attacks against other ethnic groups.



This week, escalating violence in the region prompted outgoing UN chief Kofi Annan to demand that the organisation send a clear message that the "nightmare" - of civilian deaths, mass rape, and the displacement of millions - has to stop.



The investigation in Sudan is the only ICC investigation prompted by a Security Council referral. The other cases at the ICC - involving the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, and Uganda - have been referred by the countries’ authorities themselves.



Moreno-Ocampo outlined his investigation into the “universe of crimes” alleged to have been committed in Darfur, where the situation – which threatens to spill over into neighbouring states – has been dubbed “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world" by the UN.



He said that he planned to make his final submission of evidence to the judges in February 2007, and is also putting measures in place to protect victims and witnesses – something that has been missing so far.



It’s likely that the first arrest warrants will be issued soon after.



Moreno-Ocampo highlighted the problems surrounding investigation of war crimes in this conflict, namely the “different groups and shifting factions” which makes identifying those most responsible for war crimes a “significant” challenge.



This, he said, would mean the “likely need for a series of cases rather than a single case dealing with the situation in Darfur as a whole”.



He also spoke of the “paramount importance” of providing a protective framework for witnesses - a lack of this so far has meant the bulk of the Darfur investigation has had to be conducted from outside the region.



He acknowledged the limitations he faced in prosecuting crimes in the region, and said his investigation “would focus only on the most serious incidents and the individuals with the greatest responsibility for those incidents”.



Evidence gathered so far includes statements from victims and government officials, documents gathered by the UN-backed International Commission of Inquiry and by other states and international organisations, he said.



Moreno-Ocampo also addressed the lack of cooperation of Sudanese authorities with the ICC investigation.



Although the government has supplied some information on the conflict in Darfur, and prosecutors had met with and interviewed high-ranking Sudanese officials, it has yet to respond to a prosecution request for an update on national judicial proceedings against alleged war criminals in Darfur.



He said that the future cooperation of the country would be necessary to provide “access to relevant documents as well as to the individuals in custody for the purposes of interview”. Without a police force of its own, the ICC relies on state cooperation.



The Permanent Representative of Sudan to the UN, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, was also present at Moreno-Ocampo’s address.



He reiterated Sudan’s insistence that it is capable of carrying out its own investigations and prosecutions into war crimes committed on its soil, according to a press release from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, CICC.



The CICC is a global network of over 2,000 non-governmental organisations which advocate for a fair, effective and independent ICC.



Caroline Tosh is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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