The Darfur Consortium

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Coalition for the International Criminal Court holds press conference on Darfur war crimes

US Fed News

The United Nations issued the following press release:

(September 20, 2007) A day before Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon and African Union Commission Chair Alpha Oumar Konaré was due to hold a high-level meeting on the path to peace in strife-torn Darfur, human rights activists urged the leaders to break their silence on the two men charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with committing war crimes in the Western region of the Sudan - an issue not on the agenda of the talks.

"The ICC has been noticeably absent from the discussion on Darfur and as a result, justice has been sidelined," said Tanya Karanasios, programme Director of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court as she opened a Headquarters press briefing by a diverse panel of civil society actors. Noting that Security Council resolution 1593 (2005) had called on Khartoum to cooperate with the Court, she urged the United Nations, the African Union and the wider international community to "step up and meet their obligations".

The Hague-based ICC has charged Ahmad Harun with organizing a system to fund and arm militias against rebels attacking the Sudanese army. The Sudanese Government has since appointed him Minister of State for humanitarian affairs. The Court also issued an arrest warrant for pro-Government militia leader Ali Mohammed Ali Abdalrahman, similarly charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. At an earlier press conference, ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, told reporters that he was concerned that the silence by most States and international organizations on the arrest warrants had been understood in Khartoum as a "weakening of international resolve".

Niemat Ahmadi, a native of North Darfur, said that the "war crimes", "genocide", - whatever the atrocities committed in her homeland since 2003 were called - was continuing with impunity. The lack of pressure to bring accused criminals before the Court had emboldened the Government to virtually ignore what was going on. There must be accountability for mass killings, rape and destruction of countless villages, said Ms. Ahmadi, who is a founding member of the Darfuri Leaders Network.

She said that Harun's appointment had sent a "damaging message" that those committing crimes in Darfur would not be held accountable. It had also humiliated the people of the region, sending them the message that rights abusers could do whatever they wanted in their homeland. Among other troubling signs, she said that the Khartoum Government was relocating people of Arab descent to the Darfur region and giving them automatic citizenship, and that gender based violence was also on the rise.

"It is time for silence to end," she said calling on the international community to back the Court's efforts to hold criminals accountable. Darfurians would not give up, but they needed support. Accountability was the key and without it many Darfurians were left feeling dejected and ignored. They deserved to see justice done and "even if they lost a lot", the groundwork would be laid so that such atrocities would not be committed in the future.

Calling strongly on the African Union to get behind the Court and its Prosecutor, Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative and co-Chair of the Darfur Consortium, said that regional body - and African leaders - were skirting this issue of accountability and justice. Even though it had been the only organization working in the region since the beginning of the conflict, the African Union had been strangely silent on the issue.

"The African Union has a duty, for the benefit of all African people and the people of the world, to see justice done," he said. Stressing that Africa was on record as having the most States parties to the Court's founding Rome Statute, he admitted that he was confounded and dismayed by Africa's response. "Why are they using kid gloves?" he asked. He called on African Union chief Konaré to make it unequivocally clear that the African people demanded, required - and were deserving of - justice. "We want them to show leadership from an African perspective."

Responding to questions, he said that "those criminals [charged by the Court] should be sitting in a prison cell in The Hague". Justice and accountability were an absolute necessity to ensure lasting peace in Darfur. If the Chair of the African Union travelled to the Sudan again, stood in the Presidential palace and said nothing about justice or suggested that justice be deferred, "it is a slap in the face to the entire continent". If that ended up being the case, "We will feel, Mr. Konaré, that you have let us down as a continent."

Ahead of the talks convened by the Secretary-General and other political initiatives on the Darfur crisis, expected to be discussed when world leaders converge on New York next week for the General Assembly's annual general debate, Sara Dareshori, Senior Council in the International Justice Programme of Human Rights Watch, said that what was said or not said about justice in the coming days would send an important message to Khartoum about the international community's commitment to the Court.

Frustrated that there had been near total silence on the issue and lack of public support for the arrest warrants issued by the Court, she said that "not a peep had been uttered in protest" - not by the Secretary-General, not by Member States. The fact that the international community "had turned a blind eye" had not been lost on Khartoum. The Sudanese Government continued to show utter contempt for the rule of law, and had even appointed Harun, the very man who had allegedly orchestrated attacks on civilians, as humanitarian minister during Secretary-General Ban's recent visit.

"It's time to break the silence of justice on this issue," she said, rejecting the argument posed by some that drawing attention to the issue would be an obstacle to the imminent launch of the hybrid African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). That argument didn't hold water because the Government had been objecting to international peacekeepers since 2004, long before the Court's criminal charges had been filed. Indeed, Khartoum had its own strategy and United Nations and African Union member countries must counter that strategy by emphasizing that "justice is not a moral luxury". Silence now would make it more difficult to enforce the warrants later, she added.

 

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